Reverse, Reverse! The Definitive Guide to Reverse Trials

But what exactly is a reserve trial? What makes a product a good or a bad fit for a reverse trial? What are the best practices for implementing a reverse trial, and what are a few mistakes to avoid?

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Jonathan Anderson
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An Introduction to Reverse Trials

Reverse trials may be a relatively new concept, but they are showing up in our favorite PLG tools—Loom, Asana, and Spotify. It’s hard to log into our favorite products without bumping into a reverse trial. 

But what exactly is a reserve trial? What makes a product a good or a bad fit for a reverse trial? What are the best practices for implementing a reverse trial, and what are a few mistakes to avoid?

Like a reverse trial, I promise you’ll learn all this and more by the end of this post. Then, you can decide which concepts, if any, you’ll hold onto.

Reverse, Reverse! 

What exactly is a reverse trial?

A traditional free trial offers a paid plan for a limited time or usage. A trial requires a limit, and most trials are time-bound (e.g., 14 days). Others impose a usage limit like Zoom’s 45 minutes of recording (which, if you think about it, is, technically, both a time and a usage limit). 

A reverse trial is a specific type of free trial in which premium features are offered at the outset. By the end of the trial, the user can decide whether to continue using the premium features or downgrade to a less expensive or free plan.

The key aspect of a reverse trial is that it pushes the purchase decision as far down the journey as possible, hoping that the user will have begun to form habits and realize value from the premium features. 

Is a Reverse Trial right for my business?

What makes a product or service a good or bad fit for a Reverse Trial?

Like most things in life, it depends. But it’s easiest to think through when you consider some specific examples. 

Spotify launched a reverse trial for their premium plans. Their free plans have ads.

The user journey for Spotify might work something like this:

  1. A user searches for a specific song or browses the popular playlists.
  2. A user plays songs ad-free.
  3. Spotify begins to recommend new songs.
  4. A user may like a song or add it to a playlist.
  5. Over time, Spotify’s recommended songs improve.
  6. Later, Spotify asks if a user would like to upgrade to premium.

Spotify could have prompted users to upgrade their trial initially, but they wanted to make listening to relevant, ad-free music a habit first. Because the user perceives more and more value over time, it makes sense to ask them to purchase later. 

Let’s try another. 

Loom, a video recording service, offers a reverse trial for its AI transcription features.

The user journey for Loom might go like this: 

  1. A user records a video with Loom. 
  2. Loom suggests removing the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ from the video and transcript.
  3. A user then shares the video with a colleague.
  4. A colleague might leave a comment “Great job!” 
  5. A user decides to share their video on social media.
  6. The AI features automatically create and correct the transcript.

Loom could have asked users to pay for the AI transcription services at the start, but until the user is ready to share the video, the value of those AI features isn’t clear. Again, Loom has pushed the purchase decision down the user journey until the value is felt.

When should you not use a Reverse Trial? 

While there aren’t any hard and fast rules, we’ve found a few patterns.

  1. When the product’s value is easily understood at the outset
  2. If there isn’t a ‘good enough’ less expensive plan for a user to fall back into if they opt out of the premium features
  3. If setting up additional features requires a lot of user effort
  4. If the value accrues to an account or team (instead of an individual

The calculation for a Reverse Trial is as follows: 

Does it make sense to ask for money earlier in the journey? 

  • Fewer users have had a chance to drop off 
  • But users won’t have had an opportunity to experience much of your product

Or does it make sense to ask for money later in the journey? 

  • More users will have dropped off
  • But, users will have experienced more of your product

Finally, context matters.  If your competitors are offering a Reverse Trial, your hands might be tied. When the competition lets users try out all the bells and whistles, you might also need to. It’s helpful to consider your potential buyer's context. 


Here’s a Reverse Trial decision tree: 

“It's very context-dependent … The first question you need to ask yourself: Why exactly are you doing it? What is the problem that you're trying to solve with reverse trial? In our case, we were trying to solve the problem of habit formation in this first initial period. If you're trying to solve for monetization, then [a reverse trial] might not be as good.” Karapet Gyumjibashyan, Sr. Director of Product at Krisp

“I want our users to get the best version we have to offer in their first couple of experiences with us. And we've seen that improve activation rates. We could count retention rate and also obviously monetization. But honestly, monetization was not the goal. We want people to not have to do a bunch of research and make a difficult decision before they even know what they're deciding.” Richard White, Founder / CEO at Fathom 

“We run a Reverse Free Trial and can absolutely echo the challenges of balancing excitement with overwhelm. It's a long iterative process to optimizing in-app tutorials and onboarding emails, to nail the "ah ha" moment without a sales-led demo.” Devin Riker, Head of Business Operations at Shortcut

“We've tried reverse trials and it has its pros and cons. It didn't work for us because our users already got a free experience and they wanted to "save" their trial for when they were ready - and when they did, we saw much higher conversion rates.” Caroline Clark, CEO of Arcade

How do I implement a reverse trial?

So you’ve decided you want to implement a reverse free trial. How do you go about it? 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hardest part of implementing a Reverse Trial might be convincing your team. Of the seven SaaS companies we interviewed, only two had changed their pricing model once it had been established. Everyone else made the key decision when they launched their product and had since optimized around it. The exceptions were founders who had conviction in the change.

Let’s say you have convinced your team you want to try a Reverse Trial. What’s next? 

Operationalizing a reverse trial is akin to designing a video game. Start with the simplest user journey and gradually unveil complexity. Loom didn’t lead by telling new users about its incredible AI features. It only offered the feature after a user had recorded her first video. It’s best to sequence messaging by lifecycle or workflow stage. Sequencing messaging ensures users aren’t overwhelmed and each feature is introduced at the right moment. 

[Gorgias, a Candu customer, personalizes 10+ unique messages in a banner depending on an account’s usage, lifecycle stage, and even NPS scores.] 

“What you would normally do with a sales team, but it's just implemented in software. It follows those same tactics with as low stakes as possible. You're getting lead information. You're starting to pull the customer in. You get them used to the product, you get them seeing it in detail, and you get them getting value out of the product as soon as possible. You ramp up the value… and then you close.” Timothy Olds, Group Product Manager at Dropbox Docsend.  

One important caveat: It’s important to set the right user expectations at the outset. Moving users from a traditional freemium or upgrade model requires crystal clear communication. 

Users on your free plan may not expect they’ll need to pay for anything, ever.

“Users can get stuck in this “free forever” mindset, especially if they don’t know what they are missing. If that’s the case, you can think of a reverse trial as putting your best foot forward and giving users the opportunity to be wowed early on, without paying you a dime (yet!),” Melissa Ross, GTM at HeyGen. 

Paid users, on the other hand, might feel you’re nickel and dining them. “Is this not already included in my plan?” 

Finally, a rich understanding of user journeys is crucial. You’ll need to understand the different journeys your users can take in your product to find value to know when to pop the question: Are you ready to pay?

Conclusion: A Reverse Trial is a bet on your product

At its core, a Reverse Trial is when a product is betting on itself. Moving the purchase decision back as far as possible is placing a wager that by experiencing more, users will stick around and be more willing to pay. 

When implemented thoughtfully, Reverse Trials are a powerful tool for PLG teams. They give users the best possible initial experience and can help convert them into advocates for your product. However, Reverse Trials carry risks. If the onboarding isn’t straightforward, if users don’t find what they’re looking for, or if they don’t form habits early on, waiting to ask for money won’t improve your product’s chances.

After reading this piece, are you more or less likely to commit to a Reverse Trial? 

Reverse, reverse!


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