I once found myself in the middle of a conference call with the CEO of a young Internet company that provided a great service – the website allowed customers to securely file emergency contact information and medical files online for an entire family (pets included). Backed by a monster server, and a 24/7 call center, the business was a slam-dunk in giving caretakers peace of mind should any emergency arise.
The company wanted help in creating more compelling content for their website, with the goal of converting more visitors into customers. At the time of our conference call, web stats showed that while visitors were steadily on the rise and that most people were following the content all the way through to the sign-up page, they bailed out about halfway through the sign-up process.
The CEO was flummoxed and frankly, so was I. The company even offered a two-month free trial.
As we sat there talking, I kept flipping back and forth between the homepage and the sign-up page.
CEO: “I don’t get it. Our service costs less than $35 a year, yet the process comes to a screeching halt when visitors have to sign up. What’s the hang up?”
MM: “Well, your service is still a fairly new business model and perhaps with all that you’re promising, it seems too good to be true. I see that you guys offer a free trial.”
CEO: “We do… you can see it on the sign-up page. We give two months for free.”
MM: “That’s great – so why aren’t you advertising this on your homepage… heck, on every page of the website? Surely there are those folks who are a bit more impulsive and will want to check it out right away.”
CEO: “You’re right – we’ll get on that, first thing. Where do you think we should put the info about the $4.95 handling fee?”
Handling fee? HANDLING FEE?!
In a world where individuals are barraged with advertising and special offers everyday, consumers are highly sensitized to hidden fees and obligations. The customer’s first reaction to a “free trial” with a $4.95 handling fee – especially when it’s buried in the middle of the sign-up process – is going to involve the click of a mouse away from your site (probably preceded by a phrase like, “Uh, screw that!”).
Hyped advertising or offers with strings attached, either intentional or unintentional, will do more harm than good. In the case of this company, I recommended either offering a “two month trial for $4.95” or, better yet, removing the handling fee entirely, depending on what their marketing budget could handle.
Make sure that free is really free, or don’t do it at all.