Choosing the Right Model for PLG Success

Freemium vs. Free Trials: The Right Model for PLG Success

Picture of Lauren Newalani

Lauren Newalani

Content Writer for Whistle with multidisciplinary experience spanning over a decade.


Table of Contents

If you’re in the SaaS space, you’ve probably heard the buzz around product-led growth (PLG). It’s the strategy where your product does the heavy lifting in acquiring, activating, and retaining customers. Sounds awesome, right? But here’s the kicker: choosing the right customer acquisition model is crucial to your PLG success.

In this blog, we’ll break down two popular models – freemium and free trials – and help you figure out which one is your golden ticket to PLG glory.

Product-led growth (PLG) is a go-to-market strategy that centers around the product itself as the primary driver of customer acquisition, conversion, and expansion. In a PLG model, the product’s inherent value, usability, and overall experience are designed to attract, engage, and retain users. This approach often involves offering a free trial or a freemium version of the product to allow users to experience its benefits firsthand before committing to a purchase.

Choosing the right customer acquisition model is paramount for PLG success. It determines how potential users discover your product, interact with it, and ultimately decide whether to become paying customers. The right model aligns with your target audience’s preferences, your product’s value proposition, and your company’s overall growth strategy. Selecting the wrong model can lead to wasted resources, missed opportunities, and a misalignment between your product and your market.

This blog aims to comprehensively compare two prevalent customer acquisition models in the PLG world: freemium and free trials. By understanding the nuances, benefits, and challenges of each model, you’ll be equipped to make an informed decision that best suits your product and business goals.


Understanding Freemium and Free Trials

Let’s get on the same page about what these models actually entail.


What is a Freemium Model?

Freemium is a pricing strategy where a company offers a basic version of their product or service for free, forever. Think of it like that enticing appetizer at your favorite restaurant – it gives you a taste of the full experience without any immediate cost. You get access to core functionalities but with limitations on features, usage, or capacity.

The idea is to hook you on the product’s value, enticing you to upgrade to a paid plan for the full, unrestricted experience. Freemium models are popular in the software industry, particularly among SaaS companies.

Take Spotify, for example. They offer a free tier that lets you listen to all their music but with ads and limited skips. Or consider Canva, where you can create eye-catching designs for free, but with a smaller selection of templates and graphics compared to their paid plans.


What is a Free Trial Model?

A free trial model offers potential customers unrestricted access to a product or service for a specified period, typically ranging from a few days to a month. It’s like taking a car for a test drive – you get to experience all the features and capabilities firsthand before deciding whether to make a purchase. This model allows users to fully immerse themselves in the product, evaluate its suitability for their needs, and assess its value proposition.

Unlike the freemium model, free trials typically don’t have ongoing free access. The aim is to convince users of the product’s value within the trial period, leading to a higher likelihood of conversion to a paying customer. Examples of software that utilize free trials include Adobe Creative Cloud, which provides access to its suite of creative tools, and Asana, which offers a trial of its project management platform.


Benefits and Challenges of Freemium

Now, let’s dive deeper into the pros and cons of each model.


Benefits of Freemium

  • Widespread appeal and low barrier to entry: By offering a free taste of your product, you remove the financial hurdle that often deters potential customers. This opens the doors to a wider audience, allowing more people to experience the value of your offering without any upfront commitment.
  • Organic growth through word-of-mouth: Satisfied freemium users can become your most passionate advocates, spreading the word to their friends, colleagues, and networks. This organic, word-of-mouth marketing can significantly boost your user acquisition efforts and create a snowball growth effect.
  • Fostering long-term engagement and loyalty: When users experience the value of your product firsthand, even in a limited capacity, they are more likely to develop a sense of loyalty and familiarity. This can translate to increased engagement, longer retention rates, and a higher probability of converting to paying customers over time.


Challenges of Freemium

  • Balancing acquisition costs and revenue: While the freemium model can attract a large number of users, not all of them will convert to paying customers. This means you’ll be investing in acquiring and supporting users who may never contribute to your bottom line. It’s crucial to carefully manage your acquisition costs and ensure that the revenue generated from paying users outweighs the expenses incurred from the free user base.
  • The perpetual need to impress: The freemium model is all about enticing users to upgrade, which means you need to continuously deliver exceptional value and innovation. This can put a strain on your development resources, as you strive to keep the free version engaging and appealing enough to prompt users to unlock the premium features.
  • Resource management and scalability: As your freemium user base grows, so does the demand for your resources. Providing customer support, infrastructure, and updates for a large number of non-paying users can be a significant challenge. It’s essential to have a scalable infrastructure and efficient processes in place to handle this increased demand without compromising the experience for paying customers.


Benefits and Challenges of Free Trials


Benefits of Free Trials

  • Hands-on value demonstration: Free trials provide a risk-free environment for potential customers to experience the full capabilities of your product firsthand. This allows them to see how your solution can address their specific pain points and needs, making it easier for them to visualize its value in their own lives or businesses.
  • Higher conversion likelihood: Users who have had the opportunity to fully explore and utilize your product during a free trial are more likely to understand its value proposition and convert into paying customers. This is because they have already invested time and effort into learning the product and integrating it into their workflow, deciding to purchase a natural progression.
  • Guided onboarding for optimal user experience: Free trials provide the perfect opportunity to onboard new users effectively. You can design a structured onboarding process that highlights key features, provides tutorials, and offers personalized guidance. This ensures that users get the most out of their trial period and have a positive first impression of your product.


Challenges of Free Trials

  • Limited time frame for engagement: The finite nature of free trials can create a sense of urgency, which can be beneficial for driving conversions. However, it also means that you have a limited window to capture the user’s attention, demonstrate value, and convince them to commit to a purchase.
  • Potentially lower user acquisition compared to freemium: The requirement to provide personal information or payment details for a free trial can deter some potential users who prefer the no-strings-attached approach of the freemium model. As a result, you may experience a lower initial user acquisition rate compared to a freemium offering.
  • Elevated expectations for product performance and support: During a free trial, users expect a seamless, high-quality experience. Any technical issues, bugs, or lackluster support can quickly turn them away. It’s crucial to ensure your product is in top shape and that your customer support team is readily available to address any concerns or questions promptly.


Comparing Freemium and Free Trials for PLG Success

To make an informed decision, let’s compare the two models in terms of user acquisition, revenue impact, and customer retention.


User Acquisition and Conversion Rates

The freemium model, with its free entry point, typically attracts a larger pool of users. This broader reach can be especially beneficial for products with mass-market appeal. However, the conversion rates from free to paid users tend to be lower compared to free trials. On the other hand, free trials, while potentially attracting a smaller initial user base, often boast higher conversion rates. This is because users have experienced the full product and its value proposition during the trial period, making them more likely to commit to a purchase.


Revenue Impact and Monetization

When it comes to revenue generation, the freemium model relies on a smaller percentage of paying users, typically around 2-5%, to generate the bulk of the revenue. This means you need a substantial user base to achieve significant revenue growth. In contrast, free trials typically have a higher average revenue per user (ARPU) because users who convert are already invested in the product and willing to pay for its full benefits.


Customer Retention and Lifetime Value

Both freemium and free trials can contribute to high customer lifetime value (CLTV) if executed strategically. The freemium model focuses on nurturing long-term engagement with users, gradually upselling them to premium features as they become more invested in the product. Free trials, on the other hand, emphasize demonstrating immediate value and providing a stellar user experience to encourage users to continue their subscription beyond the trial period.


Choosing the Right Model for Your Business

Ultimately, the best model for your business depends on various factors, including your specific product, target audience, and resources.


Assessing Your Product and Market Fit

Consider the complexity of your product and how easily its value can be conveyed through a free trial or a limited freemium version. Evaluate the needs and preferences of your target audience. Are they more likely to be attracted to a free offering with the potential for upgrades, or would they prefer to test the full product before committing?


Evaluating Resources and Capabilities

Carefully assess your company’s resources. Can you support a large freemium user base with ongoing updates, customer support, and infrastructure? Alternatively, do you have the resources to provide comprehensive onboarding and support during a free trial period?


Aligning with Business Goals

Clearly define your short-term and long-term business goals. Are you aiming for rapid user acquisition and market penetration, or are you prioritizing higher ARPU and faster revenue growth? Choose the model that best aligns with your overall business strategy.


Best Practices for Implementing Freemium and Free Trials

No matter which model you choose, here are some best practices to maximize its effectiveness:


Optimizing the Freemium Experience

  • Offer valuable free features that solve real user problems.
  • Clearly communicate the benefits of upgrading to a paid plan.
  • Create a seamless and intuitive upgrade path for users.
  • Use in-app messaging and targeted promotions to nudge free users toward conversion.


Enhancing the Free Trial Experience

  • Streamline the onboarding process to highlight key features and benefits.
  • Offer personalized support and guidance throughout the trial period.
  • Create a sense of urgency to encourage users to convert before the trial ends.
  • Use incentives like discounts or exclusive features to sweeten the deal.


Measuring Success and Iterating

  • Track key metrics like user acquisition, activation rates, conversion rates, churn, and CLTV.
  • Analyze user behavior and feedback to identify areas for improvement.
  • Continuously test and refine your model based on data-driven insights.


So, there you have it – the lowdown on freemium and free trials for PLG success. Both models have their merits and challenges, so choose the one that aligns with your product, market, and business goals.

Ready to get started on your PLG journey? Reach out to us at Whistle and let’s explore the best strategy for your business.