*Update 1/9/2017: We’ve recently released a lightweight, fast and easy to use new roadmapping tool that is free for individual use. Learn more and sign up here. If you need to support a complete product lifecycle, you can learn about our portfolio management offering here.*
Shared from a LinkedIn post by our CEO, Bismarck Lepe.
Free and freemium enterprise software offerings have become more popular lately, with mixed successes. We recently announced our own free product for product managers as well.
Since the announcement, I’ve been asked various times why we decided to give away a valuable product. Strategically, it’s not as simple as you might think. Here are the main drivers for why we, as a company, decided to release a free version of our product – and I hope they will help you to determine when ‘going free’ is the right strategy for your business.
The Product I Wish I Had
While my past few titles have been founder/CEO, I am really a product person at heart. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to manage all of the customer requests, engineering constraints, executive directives, sales demands, and other moving targets while tracking towards product vision—not to mention delivering a viable product on time. Even though the PM role is one of the most demanding roles in any company, the most commonly used tool is a simple spreadsheet, with hours of manual work required. Wizeline Starter is the essential toolkit I wish I had when I was at Google and Ooyala. If it’s free, effective, and available for immediate use, product people like me will use it.
Everyone has heard of the “consumerization of IT,” where traditionally stale enterprise tools take design and user experience cues from popular consumer applications. At Wizeline, we think this trend is great for business technology users. Why should anyone suffer from poor user experience, simply because they’re on the job? Many of us spend the majority of our waking hours getting work done. Wizeline Starter is our opportunity to share a better user experience and business process with thousands of product managers, program managers, and others directly involved in the planning and prioritization phases of product development. We also enjoy more users on our platform, who in turn give us valuable feedback that we can use to make our experience even better.
Evolution of Buying Behavior
The days of shipping software in a box are long gone. Today, it’s really easy to research a product or market with a couple quick searches, and various studies indicate that buyers progress through 60% or more of the purchase process before speaking directly with a vendor. As a result, consumers of all types of online tools and services demand the ability to evaluate products before they make a decision. This is especially true in the world of enterprise software, where a limited free trial doesn’t adequately demonstrate the value a product delivers over time. A free product lets our users see how Wizeline integrates into their existing workflow without a looming expiration date or obligatory sales pitch, even though many users upgrade to access advanced functionality before a trial would otherwise end.
Multi-dimensional Sales Approach
Not only do buyers want to try products before they cut a big check, but everyone in the evaluation process needs to be confident in the purchase decision. This includes everyone from the C-level executive sponsor to the individual user. Savvy executives understand our philosophy and really like the concept. But it’s really hard to dictate that even the most forward-thinking organization needs to use a particular product or service; the users need to love it. When we show those same executives that their employees are already happy and active users, their decision becomes clear and the path forward is much easier.
Being Honest About the Competition
Let’s face it: a lot of the problems our offering solves are currently addressed by existing tools like spreadsheets, which are effectively free, and—limiting as they are—tend to be the most prevalent tool used by product managers, according to our and others’ research. On the other hand, a lot of the problems that we tackle are beyond simple spreadsheet-based methods. In order to convince our customers that we’re up to solving those big problems, we show them that we are more powerful and usable than spreadsheets—with no barrier to entry to give it a try.
The Right Strategy Going Forward
Given this logic, a free, user-focused offering makes perfect sense—and, in our case, is already paying off. The key to ensure continued success lies in a commitment to continue to listen to customers, move fast, test new hypotheses, and keep an eye on the numbers. Luckily, we have a great tool for just that purpose. We look forward to sharing it with many more product people at great companies in the months and years ahead.