“Free” is a Loaded Term

When I was 10 years old, my grandfather got a lawn mower for “free”—a fact of which he was very proud. It was a Saturday, summertime and warm out, and most of my friends were out playing baseball.

On this particular Saturday, I was happy to help my grandfather work in his yard—and Grandpa was so eager to try out his new lawn mower. We expected to be done by noon, then settle in to watch our favorite team, the Red Sox, play their game.

However, what didn’t come with the free lawn mower were instructions. It wasn’t working, and Grandpa had never used a model quite like it. Suffice to say, we never watched that game, and I learned an impactful lesson that “free” is not always free.

I was transported back to that summer Saturday recently when a colleague mentioned that a software company recently started offering usage of their product for free alongside a competitive solution already in use, in the hope that users would just switch for no other reason.

As VP of Customer Success & Solutions at Nitro, this was a red flag to me. Vendors simply looking to dole out free software without taking time to understand the customer’s needs and goals are opening the door to future hurdles and obstacles, and what was once “free” suddenly becomes very expensive from a time and resources perspective.

As a customer, you can do a bit of due diligence to ensure that never happens (even if a vendor isn’t providing software for “free”). Here are a few things to keep in mind, and on the right track.

1.   Change Management is key to success.
It is critically important to manage change when choosing a new solution. This should begin with a thorough evaluation that provides you with tangible outcomes so you can say “yes we can, and yes it will be worth it.” Or not. One great way to prove this is by ensuring your vendors will enable you and your users to trial the software in their regular work environment.

2.   Choose a partner whose aim is customer delight.
Every vendor will say they are committed to customer success—it’s up to you to click down on those words. Ask how they prove their commitment, and ask them why. What sort of post-purchase relationship do you want to have with your vendor? Will they facilitate that?

3.   Hold vendors accountable for the numbers.
Words are easy. Numbers and facts are concrete and clear. Ask any vendor you’re evaluating about their numbers. At Nitro, our customers speak for us, and their satisfaction is clear with CSAT scores of 94% and an NPS of 68.

Like I said before, the prospect of “free” software may be tempting, but it could end up being more trouble than it’s worth. To avoid falling into a trap, it helps to take a step back and examine the whole product—which, in Nitro’s case, includes everything from pre-purchase evaluation to rollout assistance and ongoing customer success. In Grandpa’s case, however, a lawn mower instruction booklet would’ve been more than enough.