6 Ways To Make Freemium Work For B2B Products

Guest author Anthony Smith is CEO of Insightly.

You may have read a lot of articles last year about why the so-called "freemium" model doesn’t work for most consumer-oriented companies. And it’s true that offering a base-level product for free to gain visibility and marketshare and then converting a subset of users to a paid, premium version is not a viable strategy for every business.

However, depending on the product you’re offering, the freemium model can work well for business-to-business (B2B) companies, and especially well for B2VSB (business-to-very-small-business) companies.

(See also Why Free Is Bad: Businesses Should Be Happy To Pay For Key Services)

Here are six questions to ask yourself if you are entertaining a freemium model for business customers:

1. How big is the target market? For a freemium model to work, you need to make sure your audience is extremely large, since typical conversion rates range from 3% to 10%. According to the Small Business Administration, in 2009 there were almost 28 million small businesses in the United States. (The SBA defines a small business as one with fewer than 500 employees). Let’s say your business captures 2% of all the small businesses as free accounts, and 3% of those convert to paying customers. That’s almost 17,000 paying customers. Based on your business model is that enough to sustain and grow a profitable business?

2. What is the value of a free customer? By offering your product for free, you run the risk of cementing that value in the minds of customers. The flip side of this is that when you’re trying to build a brand and a user base, the freemium model makes it easier to get exposure, a base of quality leads, the potential of high virality and a built-in sounding board for essential user feedback.

3. How does your product impact the daily lives of your users? Do your users recognize that your product makes their work life more productive, more efficient, more organized or more informed? If so, converting from a free version to a paid version will be a natural progression.

4. Does your product help grow your customer’s business? If your product offers some kind of analytics or metrics that can be used to measure an aspect of the health of the business (i.e., sales, efficiency, productivity savings or gains), then it’s easier to align your product with the growth of the company and easier for a small business to justify spending dollars on it.

5. What is the best conversion metric – transactions or users? Both models have pros and cons. In many cases, users like the transaction model because it’s often pay-as-you-go. However, sometimes a transaction model can be perceived as nickel-and-diming the user. A user license is another common conversion metric, and it may be easier for your customers to swallow as they try to justify the budget to convert from a free account to a paid one. If it makes sense, you can may be able to combine both models (i.e., offer X number of transactions per user license).

6. What is the difference between the free and paid versions of the product? Don’t cripple your free version to the point that it offers minimal value. Remember, your customer’s first interaction and impression will likely be with your free product, so make sure that your free offering is useful on its own terms and not just an obvious stepping stone to a higher-level paid version.

Freemium models should be based on your specific business realities. If the math of the freemium model looks like it will work for your business, your product and your audience, give it a try.

 Image courtesy of Shutterstock.