7 Secrets to Subscription Trial Conversion

Subscription Trial Conversion

If you’re offering free trials to new subscribers, you need to know these 7 key factors to increase your trial conversion.

Improving trial subscription conversion rates has become a superpower of mine.

Many subscription programs offer a discounted or free trial. The purpose of the trial is to induce more people to give the subscription a try. The hope is that when more people get to experience your subscription, your recurring revenue will grow. That’s the premise at least.

The reality is converting those trials into paid subscriptions is often a challenge.

Trial subscription conversion rates vary widely. Right now, I have two clients in the same industry, one with a trial conversion rate to paid subscriber of 11% and the other at 78%. And the best news, trial conversion rates can be increased. Here’ how.

Remember when you used to visit stores in a mall?  There’s no door between you and the store in the mall. You just walk in.

This is a lot like a trial subscription. The threshold has been lowered. It’s easy to walk through to become a trial subscriber.

Mall stores lure shoppers in by placing fancy displays and tables of discounted merchandise inside the doorway. As shoppers pass by, they see the table of discounted merchandise and can’t help but walk inside to check it out.

Once they’re inside the doorway, the front of the store is designed to hook them. Now they can see other displays. Signs on the walls. And, perhaps, an associate starts a conversation.

The store designs each feature to maximize walk-ins, shoppers and the number of people who walk out the door with bags of newly purchased merchandise (and a smile).

This is the experience your trial subscribers should have with your subscription.

They enter because of the enticement. Then, everything they experience during their trial period moves them toward becoming a happy paid subscriber.

I focus on seven key factors for increasing the rate of trials to paid subscribers.

  1. Lead targeting – Leads almost always come from social media sites and convert from trial to paid at a lower rate than other sources. In comparison, leads from an affiliate with a similar target customer convert at a much higher rate. The better the customer, the higher the conversion rate.


  1. Lead-to-trial offer – A few years ago, I worked with a subscription box that gave away $90.00 worth of stuff for $10.00. They generated more than 9,000 $10 trials each month. However, the trial-to-paid subscriber offer was not effective in generating subscribers that retained their subscription. Consumers were happy to take the trial without any intention of giving the subscription a try. When your lead-to-trial offer is too generous, you attract “free seekers” looking to take the freebie and run.


  1. Auto bill – There are a lot of legal considerations, and you should always clearly communicate exactly what your customer is agreeing to. I’m not offering legal advice here. Consult an attorney. Subscriptions that require a purchase for the trial offer and collect the credit card at the beginning of the trial with an agreement to auto bill once the trial is complete (unless the subscriber cancels) usually have two to five times higher trial-to-paid subscriber conversion rates than subscriptions that must obtain the credit card after the trial.


  1. Upsell/cross sell – Shortening your CAC payback period is one key secret to growing subscription-recurring revenue beyond the Subscription Growth Ceiling. Encouraging new trial subscribers to purchase other products and services during the trial period is a great opportunity to shorten that payback period. And I’ve found that subscribers who purchase upsells have higher retention rates. This makes sense because they’ve made a larger commitment. However, numbers almost always indicate that subscribers who experience an upsell and don’t buy also have higher retention rates than those who never experienced the upsell. They usually tell me that the upsell message helped them better appreciate the subscription they had, even though they weren’t ready to buy the other product that was offered. Upsells improve subscriber value and improve retention.


  1. Onboarding – It’s critical to recognize that your sales work isn’t complete until after your trial has converted to a paid subscriber. Too many subscription businesses quit after they get the trial. They leave it up to their trial subscriber to find their own positive experience. Instead, continue the sales process through trial conversion and renewal with your 100-Day Communications Plan.


  1. Communication – Most subscription businesses that try to improve trial conversion start with messaging that communicates their favorite deliverables. It’s all about the subscription. This almost always lowers trial conversion. Instead, increase retention with communication that focuses on the subscriber, solves a key problem they are experiencing and connects them with similar subscribers.


  1. Gift with paid subscription – When you’ve been accessing something for free (or nearly free), the prospect of now having to pay for access is not exciting. But what if that payment gets them something else they want? What about holding something back that’s available only for paid subscribers? Or offering some gift or incentive when they convert to a full subscriber? In many markets, gifts with paid memberships improve trial conversion.


Just like a retail store in the mall, each step within your subscriber experience must move your subscriber toward retaining their subscription. Each new trial subscriber is an opportunity to generate a long-term subscriber. Updating your experience before and after the trial helps to scale your subscription numbers and grow your monthly recurring revenue.

Now it’s your turn. What are you going to implement to improve your trial to paid subscriber conversion rate?

Be Unleavable,

About Robert Skrob

The problem with subscription membership programs is that members quit, I fix that problem. For more than 20-years I have specialized in direct response marketing for member recruitment, retention and ascension in diverse subscription members environments including non-profit associations, for-profit publishers/coaching, subscriptions and SAAS companies. For an evaluation of your current churn rate and how I can improve it, contact me here. I discover there are often two or three quick wins you can implement within a week to lower churn immediately, let’s talk about your quick wins.
10X Subscription Growth

2 Comments on “7 Secrets to Subscription Trial Conversion”

  1. Thanks for your sharing Robert! in which case does it seem to be a good idea to offer a trial subscription?

    1. Thank you for the question.

      Here’s when I recommend discounted or free trials:

      1. When there are network benefits to the product, such as LinkedIn where the free subscribers provide value to the paid subscribers.
      2. When fulfillment costs of incremental subscribers are low and there’s not a significant cost to delivering a trial.
      3. When it’s impossible for a prospect to understand what the product can do for them.
      4. As a special limited-time promotion to convert prospects that haven’t purchased through a paid offer.

      Is this helpful?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *