Why Your Qualified Leads Refuse to Sign Up: The UX of Plans and Pricing

Every SaaS application has a funnel. Landing page, maybe a demo or pricing page, and then sign up. Qualified leads will stop by your “Plans and Pricing” page to make an informed decision. If you owned a car dealership, would you fill your showroom with stray dogs and blasting loud music? Well, too many startup founders, product managers, and user experience designers are letting the dogs and loud music run wild. Your landing page and “Plans and Pricing” are your showroom. So let’s make it shine.

Talk with your prospect. Don’t speak to them.

Plenty of SaaS applications have either “Plans” or “Pricing” links throughout their site navigation. The word choice and the styling make all the difference as to, frankly, whether someone likes and trust you and your application. The best user interfaces emphasize the right elements and optimizes screen real estate for driving meaningful action.

Based on reviewing a range of SaaS providers, following a certain set of common best practices around language often leads to positive customer affinity and more likely action.

  • Avoid jargon but leverage language to show prospects you understand them.
  • Consider specific customer segments when describing each plan; the pain you solve is likely very different for each and the plan descriptions should reflect this.
  • Next steps for different plans may be different if the purchasing process is as well; express this language via the values of buttons and descriptions of next steps to communicate to prospects that you have helped people like them before.

Let’s look at some actual SaaS providers to see these user experience practices at work.

Box

Take Box for example. Box chooses to use “Plans & Pricing” but only makes “Pricing” bold, consistent with other partially bolded phrases in navigation such as “For Personal”, “For Business”, and “For Enterprise IT”, in which “For” is not bolded and the second word or phrase is. It is subtle, but by doing so, it is made clear which tab is for what. Yet by not bolding each and every word, Box draws attention to the most important words. How unnecessary would it be for the word “For” to be bolded each time it appears in navigation?

Box.com Nav Bar

The Box main navigation bar: notice what to bold for emphasis and consistency

Then jump to their “Plans & Pricing” page. They keep it simple with three plans and clear word choice. Many people may not know the difference between “Business” and “Enterprise”. But in corporate America, the notion that an “enterprise” is a business of large scale exceeding a typical “business” is clear, so this language resonates with prospective customers who understand this distinction.

box.com pricing page

The Box “Plans & Pricing” Page: Language that Resonates with Each Segment

In fact, for “Business” and “Enterprise”, had Box used something like “Small Business” and “Big Business” or “SMB” and “Corporation”, which may technically have been an accurate description as well, this language would probably not click with prospective customers. By not using language that resonates, an opportunity to build trust would be missed and a prospect visiting the website may not have the confidence in the product’s understanding of the market to click through on a plan that may very well match their needs. Instead, they get the language right, and this sort of word choice helps communicate to the customer that Box “gets” them. This is certainly a differentiator in a commoditized file sharing and syncing marketplace.

box.com plans up close

The Box plans: Read each plan to see how different Box addresses each unique segment

One can further note Box’s astute choice of language in how they describe each plan. For the “Personal” plan, they realize people mainly care about the basics of file syncing, so they’re sure to say how this plan allows them to “Access files from anywhere.” On the other hand, an IT administrator may be making the purchasing decision on the “Enterprise” plan, so Box deliberately includes “Scalable and customizable content management with comprehensive security and admin controls” right below the name of the plan and above the action button.

Note that the end user of Box at an enterprise client (e.g. a manager at P&G) would likely be turned off by this description. It means nothing to them, especially in the likely event that they are nontechnical. However, for the IT manager assessing Box as a solution, knowing that it scales well, meets security requirements, and will be easy to administer lets that prospective customer know that Box meets his needs. Hearing more and more about file syncing is a given, so it would not really interest an IT administrator. Therefore, choosing the right features to focus on and using the most industry-specific language without using jargon that alienates people helps engender trust in your product suite and edge prospects closer to action.

As for action buttons and corresponding values, Box knows that each customer segment is unique. Individual users can in fact just sign up on the spot, whereas a prospective enterprise client clearly needs to discuss Box as an option along with Dropbox, Egnyte, and others with a larger team and a supervisor, taking months to eventually make a decision.

box.com plans action buttons

Box action buttons: Don’t miss a chance to customize and humanize the one place you ask for action

As a result, Box uses language like “Sign Up Now” for the “Personal” plan, and “Get In Touch” for the “Enterprise” plan. It’s notable that, with this language, Box might be turning down business of Enterprise clients who are in fact ready to sign up on the spot because Box realizes that virtually no one like that will exist. But if they do, the friction of getting them to get in touch first, and then sign up, poses a smaller cost than the benefit of suggesting a conversation to all potential enterprise customers. This is how enterprise clients operate. This distinction demonstrates that Box understands how each of its three primary customer segments thinks and makes purchasing decisions. Showing this awareness of how the customer makes decision furthers trust and kicks off the right sales cycle for each segment.

Have a strategy behind the options you present; otherwise your user may not have a strategy for selecting among them, either.

As application developers and entrepreneurs, we have a reason for each and every plan we offer our customers. But to customers, they just need one simple solution – they don’t care which of your plans it may be. Therefore, UX needs to make clear to users which plan is just right for them.

Key Takeaways:

  • Name your plans meaningfully; a user should be able to glance at the plan names and know which is right for them.
  • Hiding or obscuring the differences between each plan just frustrates users; underscore which features separate Plan A from Plan B.
  • Once a user figures out which plan is right for them, the next step should be clear and unique to that plan, such as a specific sign up button adjacent to that plan’s name.

Shopify

Shopify should get a lot of credit for pioneering a “Plans and Pricing” page that went on to be imitated by countless web applications. But their UX around choosing a plan is much harder than it needs to be. Quite simply, it is hard to choose a plan.

Notice the plans are named “Basic”, “Professional”, “Business”, and “Unlimited”. But Shopify is a shopping cart solution, so chances are that you are a business. So, presumably a plan named “Business” is meaningless.

shopify plans

The Shopify plans: Can you tell which plan is right for you?

Moreover, at first glance, there is no difference between the plans (except for price). It requires a scanning of the specifications for each plan in order to do a burdensome “Yes, Yes, No, No” process through each of the features across each plan.

Either highlighting differences with simple UI tactics like unique colors or callouts, or walking someone through the typical needs and recommending a plan accordingly are two options for improving the current approach. Above the fold (the view on page load, without scrolling down), there is no differentiation whatsoever except for the fact that there are some plans more expensive than others.

Shopify even makes the different next steps terribly unclear and frustratingly uniform given that there are four different plans. They go through the trouble of showing us all these different options, but then the next step appears to be the same for all of the plans: one large green button for a free trial.

shopify action buttons

The Shopify action button: What’s the point of wading through all the different plans?

In my head I’m thinking “Well, why did you put me through all of that ‘Plans and Pricing’ stuff then?” As much as people enjoying diving into product specs, if they take the time to pick out a plan, and then you just push them through what appears to be the same, uniform “Free Trial” next step, it feels like you wasted their time. It is conventional to let a user click on a plan and consequently go to some sort of unique sign up flow. I paused, stymied, unable to click on any sign up button for the given plan in which I was interested.

GoMockingbird

Many services have a free plan. Other SaaS applications just have free trials for exclusively paid plans. If you offer an entirely free plan, there is a struggle between displaying this free option prominently to make users lives easier or making that option a tad bit harder to find so that you first have a chance to sell your premium accounts undistracted by that one devilish plan with a price tag of $0.00. Notice how GoMockingbird approaches this.

mockingbird free plan

GoMockingbird’s approach to the free plan: show it but prevent cannibalization

If you want to find it, you can (see the red circle). But the paid options come first and they are visually styled in a far more attractive manner. This optimizes for upselling users and helps prevent your qualified leads from defecting to the free plan. This balance achieves visibility for the free plan while minimizing the cannibalization that likely would happen by elevating the free plan to equal visibility with all of the other plans.

If your business strategy highly values even the free sign ups, then you may not apply this UX tactic as GoMockingbird does. You may want to make a free account easier. But this unstyled but still visible approach is worth considering for those applications unsure of how to balance a good user experience for free users who may become evangelists with potentially picking off prospective paying customers by showing a “good enough” free plan when that user otherwise intended to turn over some cold hard cash.

Fast track prospects as soon as they indicate any serious interest; friction between clicking sign up and actually signing up must be eliminated.

A user ready to sign up is music to the ears of anyone selling premium accounts for a SaaS application. But what if you shut the door on someone who is interested?

Key Takeaways:

  • Always make an option to Sign Up/Buy/Checkout visible and accessible to a user
  • Require as little information and action as possible from a user to see your demo
  • Once interest has been indicated, eliminate any unnecessary steps between plan selection and confirming payment

Jobvite

Take Jobvite: a large, well-known service for managing recruiting.

jobvite home page

Jobvite’s home page: Can you find where you can sign up?

Suppose I, as a prospective customer, know the brand, like the product, and just want to get my company set up with it as soon as I can. The problem is Jobvite doesn’t want my business. They push me to a demo instead of signing up (if even for a free trial), and then don’t let me even see a live demo or some sort of slideshow if need be.

The Jobvite Gate

The Jobvite gatekeeper page before the tour: When did you last do paperwork to have someone try to sell you something?

I have indicated serious interest just to visit the Jobvite main website (Who does that? Except for prospective customers.). Moreover, I chose “Take the Tour” over “Schedule a Demo” and options like those available under the “Products” subnavigation. There is no question that I am likely a qualified lead for one of their products. Yet I get pushed to some page that asks me for extensive information just for me to get access to a demo. Now, assuming I were serious, maybe I would go through this process, and at least they have my data versus showing me a demo and never having my data to badger me in follow up calls and emails. But unwanted solicitation does not convert well. So playing a game of capturing as many email addresses to enlarge the top of the funnel is a losing endeavor, especially if it comes at the cost of a high quality user experience for serious prospects.

People do not expect to have to fill out paperwork just to see a demo. We live in an age of home page demo videos that go viral and slideshows that communicate the three or four most important things about a product without us ever clicking anything. And you’re trying to get people to do paperwork just so YOU can sell them something? Remove as much friction as you can when someone indicates serious interest. If you could, when someone shows interest, you should be beating down doors to shake their hand and lay out a red carpet that leads straight to a brand spankin’ new account. You shouldn’t trip them on that carpet.

GetSatisfaction

Take GetSatisfaction for example.

getsatisfaction home page

The GetSatisfaction home page

The moment you click to try one of their plans, they send you to an attractive sign up page throughout which they hold your hand. Intelligently, they make the very first step an exciting chance to create your GetSatisfaction community.

getsatisfaction signup

The GetSatisfaction sign up page: streamlined and clearly labeled

You can reserve your own name. The element is styled like nothing else on the page.

getsatisfaction step one

The first step on the GetSatisfaction sign up page: Don’t you just want to claim your community URL?!

It is fun! It is near frictionless: you wanted a free trial, here it is. The next best step would be getting someone right into an account and then somehow having that user customize and set up their account from inside. There are pros and cons about even further expediting the setup process, but imagining an increasingly frictionless experience inspires superior user experience.

Given many pitfalls in the path to signing up for SaaS products, it is critical to ensure each step is optimized to keep someone in the funnel. With the right word choice, clear distinctions between the plans you offer, and a near frictionless sign up process, applications can achieve a sign up flow fundamentally geared for high conversion rates and success.

Summary Takeaways:

  • Language is powerful. Your entire funnel is your sales pitch. One misstep or missed opportunity, and the sale is dead. Choose your words wisely.
  • Offer as few different plans as possible and make the differences between each painfully clearly, ideally through visual elements that can be quickly scanned.
  • Rethink every step between a user indicating interest and the purchase process being complete. Strip out any unnecessary information collection or other steps.

About the Author: Jason Shah is an entrepreneur and user experience designer who advises a handful of early stage startups. Follow his blog for tips on optimizing what your users see, feel, and think and catch his latest updates on Twitter.

  1. Loved the insight into the three different CTA’s Box use. It’s something I hadn’t thought of before, but should have. Thanks for a great article.

    • Thanks for saying so, Alyssa! I find that there’s often so much we may not notice, but many of those elements still influence us.

  2. Interesting research but you seem to be using the word UX to describe common IA and Marketing (copy) technics, any reason why you do that?

    • Hey Miles – Thanks for pointing this out. I’m using the standard, broad definition of user experience first crafted by Donald Norman. In UX design, Norman claims there ought to be “seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design. [1]” Based on this, I find marketing/copywriting an important and valid component of UX.

      Which definition of UX do you find most common in your work? I agree there are more specific definitions out there.

      [1] “User Experience – Our Definition.” http://www.nngroup.com/about/userexperience.html.

  3. Very interesting article. I loved the examples you used to explain the user experience practices at work. Great piece of research.

  4. Great article on UX. It is often underestimated how much impact these can have on whether you acquire users, or they ‘click on by’. I’ll certainly refer to this article with my next UX design.

  5. Nice analysis of pricing pages. Just one thing, your link to “home page demo videos that go viral” is broken.

  6. Thanks for another really great post, Jason! I didn’t even realize you had written this one until I got to the end, but I had already “instapapered” it.
    Exceedingly thought-provoking–and not TL;DR in the least. FG would be proud!

  7. From the entire Get Satisfaction team, Thank You!

    I was really happy to read your post because we turned on the new signup flow (aka the shopping cart) just last month as part of a bigger project where we swapped out our billing infrastructure and provisioning system. It was an enormous effort and what you highlighted in the shopping cart reflects explicit design goals we established when we kicked off the work.

    Getting these flows right is an exercise entirely focused on details. There are a couple of things about our signup process that require tweaking, for example, the company website URL rejects anything entered not prefaced with “http://”, which is a common way people enter URLs these days so we need to fix that.

    The next big iteration will focus on what the trial product actually is. We currently require you to select a plan to trial, rather than having a single all-features-enabled trial experience and at the end of the trial opt-into a paid plan. Where we are right now is good and we’ll get better at it, embodying, as you wrote, the fun factor while also iterating to remove potential obstacles on the path from a site visitor to a trial customer.

  8. Jeff – Thanks for sharing! It’s always rewarding and fascinating to hear from the decision-makers leading these efforts internally, and I appreciate your candor about the road ahead for GetSatisfaction.

    Nailing the trial product is a huge opportunity, as you know, that is also full of many potential pitfalls. For example, how do you make the trade off between user happiness and enforcing a paywall? It seems like you’re moving towards a time-limited trial, versus a feature-limited trial. Deciding how to gradually transition users into paid plans without being pushy or burning brand capital will be tricky. Building a brand people love and optimizing conversions simultaneously can be like playing with fire, but I’m excited to see how you all handle the challenge.

    • Yes, you hit on a big issue which is to funnel all visitors through the trial process and fork to free at the end, or offer a free product plan as a sign up option.

      If you put the credit card subprocess at the end of the trial experience then having a fork to free makes sense with everyone getting a full feature enabled trial experience. If the credit card is upfront it would be disastrous to require everyone to go through a trial, better off to offer a Free and Free Trial product experience off the plans page.

      We are currently a feature tiered pricing model (with an increasing focus on capacity) and yes, the trial product itself is time based, 30 days.

  9. Really good stuff Jason. You’ve made a follower out of me. It’s rare for me to read something that makes me think of so many useful action steps I can use for my startup.

    One area I’d love to see you expand on: dealing with potential prospects. You criticized the “paperwork” approach of Jobvite, but most SaaS providers would consider getting contact info to be a good outcome. besides creating an awesome viral video that makes people buy stuff on the first visit… How do you turn a prospect into a happy customer?

  10. Thanks for the deep break down.

  11. Fantastic read, Jason. Thanks for putting this down…

    What would you recommend for a semi-luxury product that doesn’t want to explicitly talk price prior to the actual sale? I’m currently working on an invitation only product and I can’t seem to figure out when to talk price…

    • Hi Avinash -

      It’s hard to say without the full context, but avoiding price can be totally fine. If you create enough of an ‘experience’, price will nearly be an afterthought. Ping me on email or Twitter if you want to discuss further.

      Jason

  12. Jeff,

    Excellent article. Too many people don’t understand the impact words, colors and flows have on the overall prospect experience.

    While it pains me to read it, your criticism of the Jobvite website is fair. I joined Jobvite ~4 months ago and one of my top priorities has been to deliver a website that provides both prospects and customers with easy access to the information they need, while delivering a consistent brand experience. Next month, we expect to launch a new site that includes new offers, new flows, and carefully selected wording that allows the prospect the opportunity to see more before they engage with a form. And, we’re working closely with the stellar Jobvite UX team to incorporate their feedback into the site. Let me know if you’d like to get a sneak peak of the new site. I’d love to get your feedback.

  13. Thanks for the article, Jason. This is very good insight into how some of the popular web sites out there do it. It is amazing how even successful sites can screw these things up!

    This is a relevant article for us right now, as we just put the finishing touches on our Pricing page where we lay out the Free and Paid accounts side by side. The intention is that, like you said, we value the free users similar to the paid ones. We take advantage of opportunities to upsell the Paid version within the Free Edition. We also try to make it clear and easy for the prospect to choose which plan is right for them at signup — and they automatically downgrade to the Free Edition at the end of their trial so no matter what their account stays open. As we add more premium features hopefully we will be able to attract them to the paid plan in the future too.

    You can see our pricing page here: cobaltpm.com/pricing

  14. Fantastic reference when educating clients on why we do what we do. I’m sure this will certainly help a few of us better explain and help enforce user experience value.

    Thank you.

  15. Wrong pricing can kill your business, I had read an article about pricing, 3 or more than 3 pricing options always give you better results, for example if you are giving only 2 option most of people will chose less pricey option, but if you are giving 3 option one with low price other with medium and high then people will prefer 2nd plan with medium price.

    Thanks!

Comments are closed.

← Previous ArticleNext Article →