Clients or prospects will often ask for the "free trial." Therefore, wherever I worked in sales, sales management or executive management, I have made it a point to communicate to my sales people and to customers and prospects that nothing is truly free.
Sales people will always use the word "strategic" when internally pitching a free trial for a client or prospect. To a sales person, the word "strategic" is defined as someone who might buy something someday. My immediate, visceral response to anyone asking for something free is a resounding "NO." By starting from "NO," you are immediately adding value to "free" both with the prospective client and the sales rep. Having said that, if you agree not to "charge" a client for a trial in the traditional sense, make sure you exact your price in other ways.
Here's what I like to call the Make Free Expensive plan:
1) Clearly Define the Trial: Make the client and the sales rep clearly define the metrics for success of the trial. What are you trialing? A technology? Service? How long is the trial? What are the client's goals in potentially utilizing your product or service? What do they hope to achieve? Understand these business objectives, not just the technology objectives. Look beyond the zeros and the ones, or better yet, make sure the client looks beyond cost as well. Don't assume they have a plan that is tied to a specific, articulated business objective. Ensure the client provides this information in writing; make the client work.
2) Link Trial Success to Commitment: Often trials are completed, victory is claimed by all and nothing happens. Once you define the trial (see # 1 above,) then document what is expected following the trial completion. Did the trial help meet the goals discussed prior to the trial? What will be the next steps and estimated timing of product or service purchase once the trial is successfully finished? "Upon completion of the trial, Mr. Customer will buy X and begin using X on X date." Remind the customer (and the sales rep) that this is not a hobby.
3) Get A Zero Dollar PO: Even though the trial is "free," make the customer sign a purchase order as if they were paying for the service. This gives you the opportunity to document steps #1 and #2, and makes the customer sign and commit to something. It forces them to work through their internal procurement process, introduces you to other people in the organization and weeds out the posers. If they have the "juice" to sign a PO directly, you know you're dealing with the right person. It also forces the sales person to do some work. Make everyone have some skin in the game. Make the sales person share in the pain... I mean the "free."
In the world of technology sales, you will definitely come across the infamous "free trial." Always start from "NO," but if you do "agree to free," stick to my Make Free Expensive plan. By taking this approach, you will weed out the science projects. You'll establish serious client relationships that your team can nurture further, while driving real revenue for your company.
Make free the most expensive price!