8 Ways to Convert Free Trial Users Into Customers Through Email Marketing


How often do you sign up to try a new marketing platform or service but never actually use it? Or use it once and then forget all about it?

With so many options out there it’s very easy for people to become overwhelmed when they first try out a product on their own. And if they don’t enjoy the experience, they won’t come back. It’s that simple.

There are many ways to “activate” a new user. You can schedule an online demo or a meeting but everyone is busy and before you know it, the free trial period might come to an end before you’ve had the chance to connect.

What you need to do is empower the user – and one of the best ways to reach them during the trial period is through their inbox. This post will teach you how to harness the power of email marketing to increase your customer activation rates.

What is customer activation?

If you work in the SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) industry, your goal as a marketer might be to drive as many new free trial starts as you can. The problem most companies face is that not all free trial users will become paying customers.

In fact, you can only expect roughly 15-20% of your free trial users to actually become paying customers – and even that percentage will drop off after 90 days.

Typical conversion rates from visitor to free trial in SaaS are 2%. This means that if you have 10,000 web visitors, 200 of those visitors will become free trial users and the best you can hope for is that 30 of those new users will eventually become paying customers.


Your goal is to get the free trial users to engage with your product and to see how it can benefit them. But before they start using your product, you need to activate them. Activating new users will allow them to get the best value they can from their free trial.

Here are a few examples of activation in different verticals:

  • Web analytics: A user needs to install the tracking script
  • CRM: A user needs to import customer data
  • Project Management Software: A user needs to create a project

In short, activation is the step where you get the user to actually start using the product

So how do you get more customers to use your product or service?

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Email marketing. Using email to engage and educate new users with content is the best chance you have to activate them. But according to MarketingSherpa, only 26% of SaaS companies use email marketing to activate new users and turn them into paying customers.

Returning to the 10,000 web visits example above, even if your 2% sign-up rate from visit to free trial conversion remains the same, even a small improvement in activation rate will increase the number of paying customers.


Here are 8 email marketing techniques that will increase your customer activation rates by keeping new users engaged throughout the free trial period. For each technique, I’ve included an example of how a kick-ass SaaS company has executed it in the real world. Let’s get started…

1. Deploy the first email to your new user immediately

Research by SeeWhy suggests that you have a window of 90 minutes before the lead goes cold. Send your email as soon as they hit “sign up for free trial” and you will already have a better chance of converting them into a customer. You can set this up by using either marketing automation software or autoresponders that are triggered as soon as a new user has signed up for a free trial.

Real world example

When you sign up for Get Response they send you an email immediately:


2. Provide clear instructions on how to get started

You want your customer to start using your product as soon as they have access to it. Unfortunately, not all products are intuitive, so you will need to give them basic instructions to help them get started.

For example, having free trial access to a CRM is great but if you do not have any customer data imported, then you won’t be able to see the benefits immediately.

Real world example

CrazyEggs’ instruction email is sent within two hours of sign-up and provides a step-by-step plan on how you can get started:


3. Personalize your emails

You should be personalizing every email you send to a new user. By personalize, I mean address them by name and sign off on the email with your signature, contact information, email and Twitter handle.

This is a much better way to build a relationship with your customer than an automatically generated email that includes a receipt.

Real world example

Better yet, show your customer that they’re important to you by sending the email from someone they will recognize. When you sign up for Unbounce you get an email from none other than Rick Perreault, Unbounce’s CEO:


4. Have a clear call to action

Remember that the goal of your email marketing is to activate the customer. This means prompting them to log in and use your product or service as often as possible within the free trial period.

Each time you send out an email, make your call to action clear.

Real world example

Cloud accounting company FreshBooks makes it easy for you to take action with a big bright green CTA that encourages you log in to your account.


5. Send more than one email during the trial period

Don’t just send one email to someone who has just signed up for a free trial. For a 30-day free trial, it’s totally cool to send 2-3 emails within the first week, and then maybe one email per week for the rest of the period.

You can also send a reminder that the free trial is ending, and even one post-trial email asking for feedback. So long as you’re adding value to the customer experience through compelling content you can send as many emails as you like! For example, Kingspoint’s conversion rate crash course delivers 8 emails in 14 days and has an enviable open rate of 65% and a killer click-through rate of 31%.


Real world example

Get Response sets expectations early by informing you that you will receive great educational content to help you grow your email marketing database and sales:


6. Create a monthly webinar

Once you start seeing your free trial list grow, you can host a monthly webinar and invite new users to join. Make the webinar available at a convenient time and then follow it up with a link to the presentation and video so those who couldn’t make it can still benefit. This is a great way to show potential customers that you take your community seriously and that you’ll continue to serve them with great content once they’ve joined for real.

Real world example

Ducksboard invites all new users to a monthly webinar to help them get started. It’s free to register and the webinar only takes 20 minutes:


7. Extend free trial periods for users that are engaged

If the user has been actively using your software or is just started to use it, it’s perfectly fine to extend their free trial period if they’re not quite ready to buy. Just send them an email to let them know.

The goal of this email is to renew their interest. Have you recently launched a new feature? Do you have any data on how other marketers benefit from using the service or statistics on new sign-ups during the last month? Share it with them!

When sending this email, look at your users’ login history. If a new user hasn’t logged in during the free trial period, then this email probably isn’t going to persuade them. But if they’ve logged in several times and started kicking the tires, then it’s worth extending their trial and giving them a gentle nudge with an email.

Real world example

Having used up my free trial period at Freshbooks, they offered me a two-week extension on my free trial as they saw I was engaging with the product. It definitely caught my attention!


8. Ask new users for feedback

If only 15-20% of free trial users become paying customers, you have an opportunity to understand why 80% choose not to become a customer. Survey these customers via email to find out how to improve the free trial experience. Ask questions like, “What stopped you from becoming a customer?” or, “Was the product easy to use?”

Send this survey immediately following the trial period. Collecting feedback is a great way to keep the user engaged and any response you receive can be used to counter the reason that stopped them from becoming a paying customer. At the very least, it will help you retain customers like them next time around.

Real world example

As soon as your trial ends at Visual Website Optimizer, you receive this email that requests feedback on why they stopped using the tool and how they can make it better:


It’s all about ROI

Turning web visitors into free trial users is no longer the success metric we’re measured by as marketers. We need to demonstrate the ROI of our email marketing, which ultimately means getting more customers and generating sales.

By emailing relevant content throughout the trial period you can guide people toward not only using your product, but getting value out of it.

Once your new users see the value in what you’re marketing, the rest is easy.

How do you turn free users into paying customers through email marketing? Let me know in the comments below.

— Steven Macdonald

About Steven Macdonald
Steven Macdonald is an online marketing and conversion rate enthusiast based in Tallinn, Estonia. He blogs at Tribes.no and you can connect with him on Twitter at @StevenMacd0nald.
» More blog posts by Steven Macdonald


  1. Kory Prince

    Great info, thanks for that!

    I have a different sales funnel and was wondering if you had any insight on how to better convert inquires into clients. Here’s the rundown:

    I use AdWords to direct people to a landing page (hosted and split tested on Unbounce because they’re incredible), they fill in there details usually in order to access property listings and sale prices (I’m a Realtor and own a real estate company). They then go into Mailchimp and a CRM that triggers an action plan or auto-responder to nurture them into face to face meetings and eventually help them buy or sell a home. The conversion to face to face meetings is by far the most challenging aspect, any sight into how I can tweak or optimize this system?

    • Steven Macdonald

      Hi Kory,

      Glad you liked the article.

      I would recommend creating role based content that helps buyers/ sellers become educated on the process of buying or selling a home. You can make this a series of educational material and before requesting a face to face meeting, ask your subscribers to join a webinar where you can introduce yourself.

      Once you have introduced yourself, it should be easier to convert into a face to face meeting.



      • Kory Prince

        Hi Steven,

        Thanks for replying and great idea. I already segment and deliver content based on buyer/seller/current renter/ etc…

        The idea of a webinar to break the ice is great, thanks!

        Also, even though I clicked the “Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail” box I didn’t get emailed. I actually came back to see if you answered. Thought you’d want to know that.

        Have a great week!


    • phim con heo

      thank you, i very need

  2. Xen

    Good information and thanks for sharing. Here in Asia, the spam culture a few years ago has made many brands reluctant to try email. As a result, we have to use many examples and case studies to proof that email marketing is still effective to our clients.

  3. Shrey Patel

    Hi, Steven

    Nice Sharing. What I am wondering was through the concept of E-Mail Marketing would be little fishy when it gets converted into bulk E-Mail sending methods. Additionally how we can cognize correct method of E-Mail follow-up and feedback.

    • Steven Macdonald

      I’m not sure marketing automation counts as sending bulk emails/ spam. You’re educating your audience into using your product and therefore is relevant to the reader.

  4. Arun Sivashankaran

    Great post, thanks for sharing Steven. One thing that I think really helps structure the email campaign is to dig into the data and see what engagement activities tend to trigger paid activation. And then use the email sequence to nurture users along that path.

    • Steven Macdonald

      That’s a great idea Arun. Using engagement metrics to deliver more personalized/ relevant content is a great way to convert even more free users.

  5. LeslieZ

    Thanks for this detailed view of converting free trial users. I always love surveying customers to find out why they do or don’t do things. It is very enlightening and helps you be a better salesperson.

  6. Justin Brideson

    One of the major reasons email marketing campaigns fall flat is failure to follow-up. We have a few seconds to grab the customer’s attention. If they are distracted at the moment they receive our email, it might not happen. Sending a follow-up in a couple of days could be an important reminder that results in a sale.

    • Steven Macdonald

      Great idea Justin and definitely something worth testing. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Alan O'Rourke

    Great post.
    It’s not just getting a user to use your product but finding the key activity that makes them go WOW and see the value in it.
    I wrote a post for the guys over in Intercom that goes into this in more detail.

    • Steven Macdonald

      That;s exactly right, Alan. If you can make them go WOW, and see the value, then they will become a paying customer.

      Thanks for including the link to your post. Great write up with some excellent examples.

  8. Sabbir H

    Hello Steven,

    It was a good read. I have few websites from where I sell WordPress themes. It seems hard to offer free trial for WordPress themes.

    There are two possibilities though….

    1. I can offer one or two themes as a trial
    2. I can limit the functionality for the trail for each of my themes.

    The first option makes me feel that if someone get it he will never come back. The second option makes me feel that it is too much of works to arrange something for all of my themes ( few hundreds of themes )

    Any sight into my issue will be really appreciated.

    Sabbir H

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  11. Eric

    I saw a post of yours on a different site about Free trials. My company issues free trials through a distribution chain, with the end result being our free trial offer appears in the prospective user’s email. We offer between 30,000-50,000 trials per year and are looking to get more of these trials activated then what is presently happening. Our trial offer/activation letter is being emailed directly, and we are having a hard time developing an informative and captivating trial offer that is not so text heavy. Traditional website landing pages do not work and we are looking for some advice on how best to create this important piece.

    Thank you in advance,

  12. Kate

    Thanks for writing great content! This has great information, as does your blog “How Changing One Word Increased Revenue by $330,000.” The latter we included in Chargify’s blog “Top 5 ways to increase free trial conversions & revenue.”

    If you have a chance to read it, we would love to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks again, keep up the great work!

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    Email writing is an art and it is really difficult for those who didn’t try it.

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    Thanks for showing these tips. Now I think my email list give me more profit.

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    Great article! Thanks for sharing.
    I would love to get your insight on the following: what if a user signs up for a trial for a Saas tool through a UTM tag. Then he invites his colleague through the tool. The colleague purchases the plan after trial (the UTM tag got lost here as it is a different person making the payment). Is there a way I can still track back the paid conversion to the marketing campaign? Thanks!

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  22. Aaron

    Email is by far the most effective way to convert free users into paid subscribers. The biggest mistake I see SaaS companies make is 1) thinking that emailing their customers is spamming them and 2) NOT emailing because they have no idea what to say (74% to be exact!)

    If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to provide great value in every email. And by value, I don’t necessarily mean discounts (although it’s possible you would do that). There is a difference between giving away INFORMATION and giving ADVICE. Sending whitepaper after whitepaper and webinar after webinar will “guilt” your users into either removing themselves from your list or just stop using your SaaS. It IS a good idea to send those every once in a while, but what I’ve found is that by giving small pieces of advice and tips for how their life will be better using your SaaS, you’ll notice high open rates and more users converting. I’ve found that customer interviews to determine WHY people use your SaaS will become invaluable as you try to identify the biggest pain points your users have and how you can solve them

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    I would love to get your insight on the following: what if a user signs up for a trial for a Saas tool through a UTM tag. Then he invites his colleague through the tool. The colleague purchases the plan after trial (the UTM tag got lost here as it is a different person making the payment). Is there a way I can still track back the paid conversion to the marketing campaign? Thanks!

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    Hi steven,
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    once again thank you.

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