Guest post by Rachael Cooper, Global Marketing Manager – StatPro Group. Follow Rachael on Twitter

Six months into the global marketing role, a fairly significant change of sales strategy turned my marketing plan on it’s head.

Turns out that the free trials we’d been offering online to get prospects engaged in our product had started to have a detrimental effect on sales’ relationships. The dating game us marketers play, to attract the right prospects to our site was turning sour along with the overall perception of us and our services.

It had seemed pretty neat when I’d done my research for the interview; request a free trial to test-drive the product and 30 days later after several hopefully successful dates, you decide whether you want to subscribe. What marketing hadn’t heard until May this year was that the 30 days involved in the trial involved a little more  fuss and pain for the prospect and us than we had aimed for.

Getting the prospects’ data into the software is no easy feat in the first few days. If they hadn’t heard of us before there’s probably a gap on day 1, explaining exactly what the software could do for you and what you need to do to get the trial up and running. Your data, your selections, your benchmarks and your goals need to be considered, formatted and uploaded. Turns out we were ahead of the game. Offering the free trial was a concept that was ahead of the product in its maturity and ability to handle completely open functionality and the issues that came from that openness. Lightbulb moment – perhaps a free trial wasn’t such an attractive offer after all. It seems obvious now, but my career to date had grown up in the B2B world of free trials, free healthchecks and consultations of whatever bit of software I happened to be selling during that year.

The marketing team had just undergone a significant change of suppliers for our e-marketing, so I asked them what they had looked for when choosing someone new. Tip 1: put yourself in the prospects’ shoes. They told me they didn’t want to be hassled by a salesman straight away. They wanted to watch a demo first, perhaps download the brochure, or more likely from my team, read the blog/webpage. Only then would they request more information, but they didn’t want to commit to anything like a free trial so quickly. No one night stands here.

We had followed these simple dating rules when sussing out Marketo. Why hadn’t we put this into practice on our own site?

Next they said they’d want a real person demoing the service, no strings attached. I started to think of my prospect as a date. We should have been dating, taking it slowly, but the free trial was aiming straight for final base. We needed to calm down and put some effort in. Lesson 2. Calm down and keep it simple.

We changed our calls to actions on our site to “request more info” and “request a 121 demo”. We thought about “more info” as an introduction to StatPro and perhaps a request for a first date. The 121 demo is definitely moving up the bases – we’ve got the visitors’ time, a real person will call them and spend half an hour demoing the product though a WebEx. No commitment necessary and definitely not the pressure for a 30 day relationship that a free trial had once generated, scaring off said potential date.

It’s been a month and we’re starting to see the results. Sure there’s a long way to go with this dating malarkey but we’re seeing an improvement in lead quality. The students and competitors have almost gone. Requesting a demo is asking for enough information to put these unwanted dates off trying and request more info gives you a brochure that gives you all the information you need for initial research (dating) purposes.

With Marketo, this was easily done through new forms and landing pages. WordPress also makes changing the buttons on the site really easy. Lesson 3. Don’t make a big deal about it – often the simplest idea is the best

Of course we’re not done. We’re monitoring the quality of these leads every day and asking sales about the quality of the new leads. There’s less leads but that’s positive too. It means sales can give their date as much attention as is required on that first “meeting” in the hope it will move on to bigger and better things.

Perhaps tomorrow we’ll have an even simpler and smarter way to connect with our prospects. Knowing these few simple dating lessons I can guarantee it.

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