It’s been almost 11 years since HelpSpot went on sale. In that time, we’ve never had a free or freemium version of it. Back in 2005 it just wasn’t that commonly done.
In later years, freemium became hugely popular, but we also avoided it, thinking that free users wouldn’t necessarily be splendid users. There’s still some truth in that I think, but our thinking has evolved a bit over time.
There’s a lot of reasons why we’ve decided now is the right time to offer a free version of HelpSpot. These are the five that I think are most crucial.
1. Grease the wheels of internal expansion
Installations expanding to new groups within an existing organization has always been a top revenue driver for us. This makes sense because we have champions inside the company who know how powerful HelpSpot is and have spread the word about it. They also often help install it and get the new group setup on it.
Up until this point, this always had to be a more formal discussion internally for our customers. They’d need to be convinced of HelpSpot vs. other solutions, get management approvals, and get budget approvals. That’s a lot of complicated steps.
The free version can remove some of those. For example, a common occurrence is a customer where the IT group uses HelpSpot, and the HR group is interested in a ticket system to manage their incoming email.
The IT group can short circuit the above discussion since there is a free version they can just install for HR. Yes, they’re using it for free, but help desks apps are most useful when everyone involved is in the system. Once the HR group sees how useful HelpSpot is the evolution to the paid version is natural.
Not all free versions will convert of course, but that’s fine. This setup also makes HelpSpot more useful to IT. Smaller groups can use HelpSpot, a tool they already run and know how to administer vs. setting up a new system for another group.
2. Provide an easier entry point for new customers
Nothing surprising here. This is why all other software has a free version so I won’t spend much time on it. For some companies, a free version is just a better entry point for them than a time-limited trial. Some percentage of those will convert to paid which is great.
3. Increase the value of small installations
Financially there’s little value in 1, 2, or 3 user accounts for us. As a percentage of our overall sales, they are very small.
However, small installations do something big ones hardly ever do. They talk about us! Small organizations using HelpSpot are far more likely to tweet about us, write a review on a blog, etc.
For bigger companies, we’re simply a tool. In a small installation, we’re usually working with the founder or head of a small support team. It tends to be a more personal relationship.
4. Build up more activity in the forums
The free version is forum only support for now. I’d eventually like to offer email support also, but as a small company, it’s hard to commit to that. We’re going to be cautious for now.
Hence, the free version is likely to increase activity in our forums. This has a lot of great benefits to all our customers allowing for a larger public knowledge base. It’s also perfect for item #5.
Free help desk software is a thing :)
Sometimes people honestly don’t want to pay, but we’ve seen over the years that people will often start a search with “free” or “open source” but in fact be perfectly willing to pay. It’s important for us to be represented in those search results.
Also, as I mentioned above, increased forum activity is great. Forum topics tend to rank pretty well and help capture the long tail of questions.
This experiment has been running for less than a week, but we’ve already seen some great results. A lot of new organizations have come into our orbit, and existing customers are already making use of it even though we have yet to formally announce the existence of the free edition.
Most importantly, if you’re looking for a support solution give HelpSpot a look!