Why All Free Plans Are Not Created Equally

SaaS free plans

If you’ve been shopping around for a customer analytics program, you’ve probably noticed that many companies offer a Free plan. Free plans allow you to see how a product works with your data and what insights you can gain from your data. But of course the central draw of any free plan is getting enterprise level functionality without having to pay enterprise level prices, or anything at all. 

Some SaaS plans are not designed to be truly free

While you can gain a solid understanding of product features and capabilities from free plans, they can sometimes be deceptive. Every company can hide certain key features behind a paywall, but many will protect their most advertised features. For example, a product may offer dashboard links to easily share your data analysis, but that may only be available once you join a paid plan, not in the free plan. In short, the features you want or need the most often require you to sign up for a trial or a paid plan, which defeats the purpose of opting into a free plan.

Some products limit their functionality so much that the product is essentially has no value for real use cases. For example, many companies limit user seats, offer little to no support, or have a minimal amount of data history, which makes it hard to track data over time, or get a complete picture of your customer activity. With limited user seats, only a certain number of people can use the product. If a company is looking to use a product for three departments and has one user seat, it’s going to be hard to test the product’s functionality for different insights. If a product offers no customer support, it can basically render the product useless unless you are already an expert or have the time to parse extensive documentation. Even if you’re on a free plan, you should still be able to connect with the company’s support team in order to learn how the product works, and, if the company doesn’t provide solid support as you start using their product, they may not be there for you when you start paying for their product. A free plan’s amount of data history can tell you a lot of things. It can tell you how long a company thinks you should use a free plan before upgrading and how long they’ll keep your data history for you. If you use a free plan and decide to eventually upgrade, it makes transitioning easier because your data is still stored in the product. 

Free plans are meant to give users the core functionality of the product, but when they are extremely limited, what’s the point? The point of a free plan is to allow users to use a product, in its entirety for a period of time without paying. When companies advertise a free plan that doesn’t adhere to the true spirit of a free plan, it diminishes the point. Some companies may not be looking for the most unique features, but more niche features that are sometimes hidden behind a paywall. Free plans should service all customers and offer a taste of both niche and unique features for every company. 

If you’re considering trying a free plan, you should do the following

Before trying a free plan, it is important to consider:

  • Which features are most important to you
  • Your normal use case and requirements
  • Think about if you have the budget to upgrade

Before trying a free plan, it’s important to think about what features will help you accomplish your business goals. Are you interested in increasing product stickiness or are you more interested in learning about where your customers are coming from to improve marketing? Maybe you’re interested in both, but either way it’s important to think about which type of features and tools will help you accomplish these. In this case, your business would be looking for product engagement tools, like funnel and segmentation.

Your normal use case and requirements will help you determine if a free plan will be able to do what you need it to. For example, limits on data history and user events can really hinder your free plan experience. Indicative’s free plan offers 6 months data history and unlimited custom events, whereas Mixpanel offers only 90 days of data history and 1 custom event. Other products, like Kissmetrics, don’t offer a free plan at all. If a free plan doesn’t offer the tools and features you need to fulfill your normal use case and requirements, it’s not worth trialing.

Most products design their free plans to be used for a few months and then encourage an upgrade. It’s important to evaluate the paid plans and their costs because if you do enjoy using the free plan you’ll want to eventually be able to consider upgrading as your business grows. Being locked out of a product that works for you because of price would be mean starting the free plan cycle over again. If you’re using a free plan that will never meet your business’ needs, are you able to afford a paid plan at this stage in your business’ life? 

Once you’ve taken these factors into consideration, you can evaluate the limits of free plans and see if what your business needs falls within these limits. If you’re unable to find a plan that fits those limits, you should begin thinking about how much you’re willing to pay to get the features you need. Many entry level plans have harsh limits designed to drive up costs, but it may be worth talking to a sales representative about your needs.

At Indicative, our free plan offers some of our top features, like 1 billion user events/actions, unlimited user seats, and weekly training webinars. You can create your free account here.