After spending the past 15 years in the bottleless water industry, I’ve learned that one key activity is offering a free trial.

Yes, offering a free trial on a water, ice, or coffee unit leads to an 85% close rate and consistency in your sales team’s performance, month in and month out. It sounds so simple: Let 100 potential customers try your product for free, and 85 (or more!) customers decide to keep it.

Well… it is VERY simple, but I’ve learned that free trials are not that easy.

Here are the complications:

  1. You and your company must be willing to “invest” in the inventory, and you have faith that sales will follow.
  2. Your sales team needs to have a very disciplined “go to market” approach to ensure free trials. Getting someone to change a service that’s 14 on a list of 10 is sometimes difficult if you don’t understand how to do the following:
  3. Get the customer emotionally involved. If the customer is emotionally involved in the decision-making process, they’ll look at a free trial. The free trial then builds value and leads to change. Everyone needs to be dedicated to this concept through investment and teaching. If not, then those employees in leadership roles won’t have the discipline to stay the course.

When I first got involved in this business, I came from the office equipment industry. I was used to free trials in the ’80s and ’90s for mid-size to large pieces of office equipment. This “free trial” practice was commonplace until the digital age took over, and dealerships started to drag the IT people into the office vs. offer to place a free trial. So, the transition to this business was familiar to me.

We never had a problem or even questioned the investment in plenty of equipment for free trials. We wanted a salesperson to be able to secure a free trial, and then have a technician install that cooler or ice machine within three days of a customer saying “yes”. Because our sales cycle is so quick (roughly two weeks), and inventory is mostly JIT for most manufacturers, the investment should be simple to understand. In addition, there are many “floor planning” options out there if someone needs a little more time to develop their cashflow. We can see free trials work, but you must have plenty of inventory readily available.

Now that we’ve established the need for inventory, you now must select an “offense” or strategy on how you are going to “go to market” as a company. This offense should include teachable ways to cold call and set appointments. It should include an introductory meeting format, talk tracks, bottled water versus filter coolers and other common competition to water. Your “offense” must be concise and teachable if you want to grow a business. If you want to keep it small, be the magic. If you want to grow, teach the magic.

Finally, since everything we do in this “free trial process” is to lead to a free trial offer, it is important you practice your “talk tracks” and understand the “points of pain” against your competition. The greatest agent of change is getting the customer emotionally involved. Emotionally involved can come from education about your product, or helping them understand what their current products’ capabilities, as clean drinking water is essential in the marketplace. Also, the delivery of that water is very important as well. There are many differentiators depending upon competition, marketplace and the products you are offering. The bottom line is, if the customer doesn’t get emotionally involved then your chances of securing a free trial are greatly reduced.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve educated 100’s of salespeople who have placed over 100,000 systems, all through the free trial process. This process works but it does take investment, education, discipline, and commitment to manage the process.