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When free is everywhere, where’s the value?

March 1, 2022

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“Free Trial!”

“Request a Demo!”

“3 Free Seats with our Starter Kit!”

Have you heard that before? Have you said that before? If you’re an educator, or you sell to educators, those phrases are everywhere. Some kind of free introduction was a baseline expectation in the edtech market even before the pandemic.

Sure, “free” gets butts in seats. It gets users. According to Carl Hooker, a former Director of Innovation turned ed-tech entrepreneur, 1 million free users is better than 10 paid ones — especially if your goal is to reach school, district, or statewide adoption.

But, when your free trial ends, where do your users go? When free is everywhere, where’s the value?

If free is Step 1, what’s Step 2?

“Free has lost its luster because of the pandemic,” Carl told us on The Education Insider Podcast. Educators are inundated with free. But school leaders find themselves with an influx of federal funds from programs like ESSER. For the first time ever, they are flooded with free and funding at the same time. Many are overwhelmed.

Ten years ago, or even just before the pandemic, “free” got you a seat at the table. Now it’s a minimum to get your foot in the door. Carl imagines educators these days are asking,

“What else are you gonna offer me besides just free? Because I can get free anywhere.”

To get to that next step with a district, he said, “...you've got to step up your game and say, ‘Oh, we're going to give you free, plus a level of reporting and insight that you never had before and communications tools to give to your communities.’”

Altogether, Carl says there is a lot of opportunity in the edtech world right now, but capitalizing on it will be challenging. Educators have funds available and they have real needs to spend those funds on. But they are exhausted from trying to understand their new resources and weighing purchases. 

Think Long Term

Preview of Episode 3: Schools have funding now, but it won’t last forever. They’re feeling that “use it or lose it” pressure. Now is the time to offer long-term contracts, so they can get what they need now, and then not have to worry for a few years. In other words — think long-term relationship, not short-term sale. Listen Now >

What can you offer during your free trial to keep users once they’re on your platform? How can you build a relationship and an unprecedented level of support that makes educators want to keep you around? What can you offer that reduces teacher stress and gives them more impact out of the time spent with your tool?

Understand Your Buyer

Unfortunately, you can get 100,000 free users, but you will never have 100,000 close relationships. (Sorry to be a wet blanket.) You can’t be everywhere at once. But you can form those relationships if you really understand your buyer.

Do you watch a certain TV show regularly? You might feel as though you know the characters. (Battlestar Galactica anyone?) When you really understand them, you can form a sense of personal connection with someone you’ve never met.

Don’t (just) create a free trial. Create an experience that shows you really know who your buyer is. Help them solve a problem your competitors don’t even know they have. 

How do you know what those problems are? Learn how to use data-driven empathy

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