The dos and don’ts of free trial software pre-installs for resellers

Software pre-loads are a somewhat controversial practice among resellers in the industry. If done right it can be a great value-added incentive and a tremendous marketing tool. If done poorly, as some major vendors such as Dell, HP and Sony do, it can annoy and possibly alienate customers from both the product and the reseller. The key to success: common sense, good judgement and moderation.

Customers typically want their computers to have what they need on their PC at the time of purchase without having to shell out a lot of money.  Trial versions of popular applications can give the customers some functionality without the added cost of purchasing full versions right off the bat. Trial versions can also introduce new products to customers. A “try before you buy” approach can often hook a customer into the application and entice them to purchase the full product, hopefully from the reseller who sold them the PC. This upsell opportunity can help solidify the customer-reseller relationship and give the reseller an added advantage as a one-stop resource for additional products, service and support.

However, while they can be a great value-add to a new PC and can entice sales of full product,  some large OEMs will overdo it and load down the machines with so much  trial software programmed to boot up with the system that it often bogs the machine down, taking up system memory and space on the hard drive, negatively affecting performance and clogging up a new PC. For this reason, many customers also have this software immediately removed, often paying their tech to do so.

So how do you leverage the potential marketing power of trial software without creating a monster? By following three simple rules:

1. Know your customer. Listen to him or her. Find out what he or she needs and offer only the trial products that are most likely to meet them. If the customer is using the PC for accounting, a free trial of anti-virus software is fine as protection is necessary, but why load it down with trial games? Everyone likes to get something for free but if it isn’t used or needed, free stuff is useless. It’s just common sense.

2.  Whenever possible, install the trial products with prudence. Some software such as anti-virus programs will need to start and run with the operating system, but that free trial version of MS Office doesn’t need to load up and run the entire suite on boot. When installing trial products, configure them properly. Let what needs to run immediately load up and turn everything else off. Let the customer decide if they want to run the applications and when. Optimize the system for best performance. Let the PC run the software. Don’t let the software run the PC. Install trial software with the customer and performance in mind. Use good judgement.

3. Don’t try to be everything to everyone and don’t try to sell everything at once. Everyone needs anti-virus and anti-malware scanners, but do they need them all?  I purchased a Dell laptop once that had software for half a dozen ISPs. It was a huge turn-off and it was the last Dell I bought. I’ve seen brand new PCs with multiple Office suites, utility suites, multimedia applications and security products. Why does anyone need free trial versions of four different backup solutions? They don’t. It may also confuse them as to which one you recommend and endorse as a reseller. Offer a limited number of different products and only one of each type. Pick a vendor you recommend, trust and support for each and install a trial version of the product. Don’t try to install and sell every single application on the market. Promote and sell, but do it sensibly. Use moderation.

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