Dear Vendors: When You Say “Sign Up To Download a Free Trial!” This is What a SysAdmin Thinks

Free stuff rocks. As the Open Source business model has continued to grow in popularity and financial success, more and more companies are starting to offer a lite version of their flagship product for free. Others still offer time-crippled versions of their full product that only work for a short amount of time. However, the principle remains the same: To make an informed decision, people need to try out your product before they can become happy customers. It’s no use to snag a paying customer who becomes an unhappy customer when they realize that the product does not perform well in their scenario.

However, there’s a second half to the philosophy of giving things away for free. Free means more than money. Free should also mean bereft of intimidation, expectation and especially obligation. I shouldn’t have to worry that every phone call that rings my phone will probably be a Sales Don with a blackbelt in the bloodthirsty discipline of aye-fleece-yu. I shouldn’t have to peek out my curtains before walking to the mailbox. Once I start practicing SERE techniques before going to work, I think that’s a sign that a line has been crossed.

There’s some places that only want minimal information. A name, and email address. I’m okay with that in the same way that a person is happy if a mugger only wants their paper money and not their whole wallet, backpack and gold tooth. Other places are not so lenient. Each field is required in a multi-field form. First name, last name, salutation, business title, company name, number of employees, address (some even check for address validity so 1313 Mockingbird Ln won’t work. Curses!), cell phone, business phone (with extension), yearly budget, number of servers, number of PCs, number of mobile devices, number of household pets, yearly salary, highest level of education and yes, in some cases even a credit card number.

Did someone really think that demanding all that information would be a good idea? Furthermore, are there people out there that think giving this amount of information (accurately, anyway) is a good idea? I’ve had to do a bit of my own research on eCommerce and conversion rate theory, so I know quite a bit about the need to reduce the hurtles in a form to thereby increase submissions. I find it very hard to believe that a detailed cross-examination is anything but a barrier to conversions. Perhaps some would say that a certain level of detail will weed out the merely curious from the more serious leads.

Here are some of the ways that I translate a “sign up for a free trial!” barrier:

“Give us all your deatils so we can air drop a sales ninja to your CTO or contracting employer!”

Because the merits of your product require a little extra help from shiny brochures, buzzspeak and toothsome sales associates.

“Our business can only stand on shady credit card scams so we’ll conveniently charge you some hidden fees or opt-in charges for the skrill we so desperately need”

Just don’t.

“We will stalk you and everyone who works at your company using LinkedIn, FaceBook and high school class reunions until we can find a C-level exec to drug and brainwash with our scurrilous ways.”

Because if the people who actually know technology can’t be won over, that’s just a small bump on the road to Salesville.

What do you think when there is a barrier to getting a trial software product? What about when you’re required to fill out a ton of information first? Do you have any sales horror stories surrounding what should have been a very simple product trial? Share in the comments below.


  1. Nick

    March 8, 2012 at 7:27 am

    The more information I’m asked for the less inclined I am to try the software. Similarly if the product price isn’t on the website I’m less inclined to investigate.


  2. Mike

    March 8, 2012 at 11:38 am

    I don’t mind submitting some basic contact info when obtaining a trial, but not a cross-examination. I realize they’re trying to sell a product, but there’s a limit as to how much you should be bugging a potential client.

    I’ve had vendors email me each week asking how things are going, even though last week’s answer was “I’m very busy, I haven’t installed it yet, and I don’t anticipate doing so for a few weeks”. In other words, cr*p and unforeseen issues happened, what I planned on doing is not happening now because I do have to respond to more important matters than an application eval.

    Vendors that pester in that manner soon migrate lower on my list of potential candidates. Same goes for vendors that feel they must subscribe me (without my consent up-front) to a myriad of announcements, newsletters, and generally inane communications.


    • Wesley David

      March 8, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Exactly. When a vendor keeps pestering me relentlessly, I envision myself dealing with that kind of culture and business practice as a rule if I were to choose that product. I’ve got enough trouble in my day; I don’t need that kind to add to it.


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