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Three ways to improve customer acquisition strategy in 2022

In 2016, Kyle Poyar from OpenView declared the Slow Death of Freemium, where he described that SaaS companies are no longer seeing the rewards from offering free software to prospects. Furthermore, he highlighted four approaches that will become mainstream. Among them, the free trial was mentioned as one of the approaches to offset the failing freemium model. 

In 2022, Kyle’s prediction surfaced. It’s estimated that 75% of SaaS companies offer free trials. Have you wondered what kind of experience you are driving your leads into when they convert from a free trial?

In this blog, I will discuss three things: 

  • The pitfalls of the empty free trial journey 
  • Three new ways to attract, engage, and convert leads into paying customers
  • Real use-case examples of how to improve your customer acquisition strategy with virtual labs

I hope to help you transform your acquisition strategy into a conversion machine that turns new leads into happy customers and shortens the sales cycle. 

What value are your leads receiving from free trials?

Modern buyers want to be in control and receive value as fast as possible. In the past year, with the growth of the product-led movement, you may have heard how SaaS companies like Slack and Dropbox are growing exponentially. Their strategy enables buyers to experience desired outcomes fast and makes it easy to invite others to try their tool out as well.

What does this mean for software companies with complex technology? You try to offer the same experiences by providing free trials, but buyers do not receive the same value as quickly as they would with a simple SaaS product. Why? Because of a higher learning curve, product barriers are comparably high.

Only providing the option of a free trial for buyers to experience value on complex technologies is not the best idea. This trickles down to free trials usually consisting of empty product environments. They offer no context and consist of empty infrastructures that offer no data and integrations. 

The numbers speak for themselves. A typical SaaS Opt-out free trial conversion rates (payment information is collected up-front) range from 30–50%. Now let’s zoom out and take a look at the whole software industry. You will see that the average free trial conversion rate sits at around 4%. So, where does this put your product?

Simply by providing free access to your software, your buyers see your software but don’t have the context to understand how, why, and when to use it. You need to provide your buyers with educational product experiences.

The complex journey to product value

Imagine the free trial scenario. Your lead is desperate to find several software options to add to the shortlist for their manager to evaluate. They enter your website, fill in the form, and get an automatic download of the free trial software (if their company laptop allows it). 

As they open your product, automatically, a few bubbles pop up, telling them to click here and there. They click next, next without giving it a single thought out of habit. They have access to the software, but it is empty without any data or guidance to help them build a business case for their specific use case. 

They take the vetting process seriously and put aside one hour to figure out the software and see if it fits their needs. 

An hour goes by. Now your lead is frustrated. After trying to create a POC to present to the team, they have nothing! They tell themselves they will try again next week. But it is more likely that they are done with this software — they do not want to move forward and talk to sales. With a sigh, they say, “next!”

Okay! Let’s break down what went wrong in this scenario.

Sign up barrier

The signup forms create high friction when your website visitors are unsure of your brand and products. They need to decide in a short amount of time if they trust you enough to give their actual email, name, and company information. They know that in a few days they will receive emails and calls from your sales team. The truth is, they just want to see how your solution works without being confronted by an eager sales rep. 

Installing software

Installing software is a tricky game. Most corporate laptops have security measures that don’t give your visitors the right to install new software. Your visitors are excited to try your software but can’t because of their company policy. They need to communicate with their managers and other departments to get the green light to test your software.

Ineffective explanation and guidance on how to use the product

After successfully downloading your software, your lead has now entered unknown territory. The pop-up bubbles guide your leads through certain features, but it’s only helpful if they read the text.

Most times, your leads aimlessly click through them as if they are playing a round of Whack-A-Mole. You know the drill. You’ve done it yourself! There are better ways to focus your lead’s attention on specific features and explain their value.

The lead didn’t accomplish the most essential thing — achieving their desired outcome with the product

Your leads are looking to get a job done with your solution. Will your leads successfully evaluate your product when you provide a product experience with no hands-on guidance, no context that resonates with their use-case, and empty infrastructures that don’t include data and integrations?

The honest truth is, if you are selling complex solutions, your leads need more hand-holding to see the value. They need an additional step before jumping into an empty free trial environment. It is a step where buyers get the support and guidance they need to quickly discover value before diving deep into the technology. This way, they’re motivated to use your product.

Increase conversion by educating your buyers to value

How do you enable buyers to achieve the expected outcome from your product? By creating interactive product experiences. Curious buyers can see and experience how your software can solve their exact use case with pin-pointed scenarios.

People will dive into a particular use case with a good product narrative, guided with skippable step-by-step scenarios enriched with data and integrations.

At their own time, buyers can understand precisely how the software works and validate if it is an excellent solution for their problem before starting a free trial or pilot.

Use virtual IT labs for selling

The longer it takes for your buyers to receive value, the less likely they will buy the product or additional features. Based on our customers’ and our own experience selling to a technical audience we know that your buyers can easily get lost in free trials.

It usually takes too much effort to make the free trial work. This is true for your team and your lead. You need to provide customer support to help your leads troubleshoot their use case before becoming paying customers. This costs time and money. It does not make much sense from a revenue perspective. You can eliminate the frustration and close the knowledge gap for your buyers by creating guided product experiences with virtual IT labs that enable you to offer guided experiences to users.

What are virtual IT labs?

Virtual IT labs provide users with hands-on sandbox environments to learn about products and technology. Sandboxes are self-contained environments created using actual products/technology to match real-world scenarios, exposed to the user using just a web browser. Users can learn and experiment with various tools and technologies in these sandboxes without worrying about breaking your production environment.

Besides sandbox environments, Virtual IT labs also provide guided scenarios. Using these scenarios, users learn about a product step-by-step and are given feedback along the way.

The combination of giving users the freedom to experiment with technology, guiding users using scenarios, and providing active feedback based on their actions, is the best way to teach people about a product.

Here are three ways virtual IT labs can help your buyers better understand your product.

Show how your product works with real technology, infrastructure, and data

The way the customers use your product differs. Every segment of buyers, for sure, has different tool stacks in place. For example, some may or may not use the cloud or have an on-premise data center.

Imagine how easy it would be to show your product working in an environment similar to your buyers’ needs. That way, they’ll be familiar with the setup and recognize their situation.

Create use-case specific product experiences

You want people to feel that “aha moment” with your product. You need to insert some storytelling and context into your content to do that successfully.

For example, your product is a monitoring tool, but your lead experiences no incidents during the trial period. To showcase the added value of your product, you give them a hands-on tutorial in which an incident occurs. This experience makes the value of your product visible, even though the incident did not happen in real life. With the help of your product, your buyer will be able to find and solve the problem quickly.

Look into creating product environments to define the context and set up scenarios to showcase features. Get into the mindset of possibilities of setting up use-case-specific scenarios where you can highlight features, preload some data, and preconfigure infrastructure.

Engage people with enjoyable hands-on product labs

Think about your target audience; the technical practitioner. They love to learn, solve challenges and be critical. Most importantly, they are busy, constantly under pressure to perform and build fast. They don’t have to spend hours understanding software.

When looking for software, they need to evaluate if your solution will solve their problem quickly. As I mentioned earlier, empty free trials with limited guidance and resources take up more time and lead to frustration.

Consider creating fun hands-on product content that will educate and enable your buyers to evaluate your software and make a purchase decision quickly.

What is the marketing ROI of virtual IT labs for your customer acquisition strategy?

  • Increase in website traffic
  • Higher conversion rates
  • More quality leads
  • Lower customer acquisition costs
  • Faster deal velocity (we care about sales too)
  • More buyers enabled to make a purchase decision

Three new ways to improve your customer acquisition strategy

Here are three examples of how virtual labs can improve you to help you attract, engage, and
convert more leads into paying customers.

Product Test Drives

What are product test drives?

Test drives are self-service demo experiences that easily guide buyers to value within a specific use case. They include a sandbox with your product, slides to tell your product’s story — explaining when and why to use your product, and interactive assignments with preconfigured infrastructures and data to experience how your product solves their problem. 

Test drives enable you to show the value of your software fast by adding context. This way, you offer people personalized, hands-on product experiences. Buyers can try out your product and see if it will solve their specific use case before starting a free trial or pilot.

Benefits of product test drives

To create the context, you need data, scenarios, and, if applicable, integration with cloud resources. 

Product test drives help you enable buyers to reach desired outcomes with your technology fast. You can create test drives focusing on specific use cases enriched with complementary technologies and example data. 

This way, buyers will get a positive feel of your product by quickly experiencing how and when your technology will solve their particular problems. And they do it all on their own.

Important features for this example:

  • Browser-based labs that require no downloads or installations
  • Private virtual lab automation and maintenance
  • Integrate activities with your CRM  
  • Track lab engagement
  • Fast loading time with hot start
  • Embed labs to your landing pages
  • Shareable links to virtual labs
  • Temporary cloud account creation and management for AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure

Instruqt’s lead generation examples with test drives

We, the marketers and salespeople at Instruqt, have experienced great success by making test drives the main conversion engine on our website.

After experimenting with free trials, we decided to eat our own dog food and use our platform for lead generation. We’ve created three virtual labs experiences that we call test drives. These labs help website visitors learn and experience the value of using virtual IT labs for demand generation, lead generation, and customer education. Each lab focuses on a specific use case. 

Within the first month of switching our CTA from free trials to test drives, we experienced two main improvements.

  • Increase in leads — We had a 400% increase in quality leads within the first month.
  • Shorter sales cycles — Buyers understand our solution before talking to any salespeople.

Product Workshops

What are product workshops?

Product workshops are in-person or virtual workshops sessions where field marketers and solution engineers work together to educate buyers and customers on the value of their tools. 

The sessions answer important questions such as; what problems their tools are solving and how they work by getting hands-on with the products. These sessions usually consist of lectures mixed with fun hands-on labs.

Benefits of product workshop hands-on labs

Traditionally, with live product workshops, field marketers and solution engineers would reach 100 – 200 participants. Marketers and sales engineers redefine the product workshop using virtual IT labs and a streaming service. Now you have the whole world in front of you by virtually offering informative, fun workshops and labs. 

The product workshop hands-on labs offer people the experience of understanding the value of your tools, what they’re solving, and how it works with learning by doing. These labs help shorten sales cycles and expand customer usage.

Important features for this example:

  • Browser-based labs that require no downloads or installations
  • Integrate activities with your CRM  
  • Private virtual lab automation and maintenance
  • Fast loading time with hot start
  • Temporary cloud account creation and management for AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure
  • Automated testing framework for your labs
  • Any amount of pre-loaded sandbox environments read to use at anytime

HashiCorp’s lead generation example with product workshop labs

HashiCorp uses product workshops to convert leads at the top of the funnel. 

Hashicorp is enabling the world’s largest companies to deliver applications faster by helping transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices.

HashiCorp generates demand with short tutorials on their website: HashiCorp Learn. From there, their goal is to try to funnel people into a few different types of experiences: the first being the Field Marketing workshop sessions. 

When they first introduced virtual product workshops, the results exceeded their expectations. In just nine months, they reached over 14,000 participants through workshops running on Instruqt. That was 10x what they anticipated. These workshops are vital to the HashiCorp sales funnel because it allows their pre-sales engineers to reach a large audience. It’s a great lead generation story. You can read about it here

Practice Labs

What are product practice labs?

Practice labs are gated or ungated hands-on, self-paced, always accessible browser-based tutorials. 

Benefits of Product Practice Labs

Product practice labs are demand generation or lead generation tools to educate people on your technology and other technologies that complement your software. 

Important features for this example:

  • Browser-based labs that require no downloads or installations
  • Integrate activities with your CRM  
  • Embed labs to your web pages
  • Fast loading time with hot start
  • Private virtual lab automation and maintenance
  • Temporary cloud account creation and management
  • Any amount of pre-loaded sandbox environments with Kubernetes infrastructures ready to use at anytime
  • Social media badges

Kasten’s demand generation innovative example with educating people on Kubernetes and how to get started with their product

Kasten.io uses comprehensive practice labs to attract and convert more people at the top of the funnel. They’re creating product content that generates demand and educates people on how to get started with their technology. 

Kasten is a technology that is purpose-built for Kubernetes. They provide enterprise operations teams with an easy-to-use, scalable, and secure system for backup/restore, disaster recovery, and mobility of Kubernetes applications.

Kasten.io’s marketing team looked for an innovative and fun way to educate their technical audiences on their products. After KubeCon EU, the marketing heard many people started conversations around Learning Kubernetes. 

They decided to create practice labs that educate the community on Kubernetes and allow developers to experience their product. This allows the community to see and experience the immediate value of their product to the Kubernetes user. 

A few weeks later they started building Kubernetes practice labs for learning.kasten.io. 100% created for the tech community and a marketing initiative to generate leads. And it is paying off: just two weeks, without much of a push, we have signed up well over 3,000 learners, who have taken over 1000 labs. 

This use case is an excellent example of attracting and converting more leads by educating the tech community. 

Join our LinkedIn Live Session with their VP Marketing on January 26th to learn more about their approach.

The virtual labs make this initiative unique: learning.kasten.io is not another YouTube channel, not another blog. It is the most comprehensive Kubernetes learning platform that provides real hands-on labs on top of the more traditional assets.

Educational hands-on virtual IT labs are the answer to an effective customer acquisition strategy

Using virtual IT labs gives you new ways to improve your customer acquisition strategy and shorten sales pipelines. You will quickly educate your buyers at scale by creating test drives, product workshops labs, and product tutorials. Make it easy for people to want to pay for your software.

Want to experience first-hand Instruqt’s test drives? Go to our free test drive.

Katy Andreeva
Katy is a Growth Marketer at Instruqt.

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