How to Engage with a Microsoft Free Trial

“Try it free for 30 days!” The subscription service is becoming the norm. With everything from meal delivery, make up boxes, and technology services, the free trial is a sentiment you see often. Every service out there offers a free trial. They want to lure you in and get you hooked on their service so you never look back to a time when you didn’t have it. Microsoft is no different, in this case.

For almost every Microsoft business application out there, customers have the opportunity to do a 30-day free trial. Free trials sound like such a great idea because they give you the opportunity to test and play with an application before committing to purchasing it. I do think that trials are a great idea, but I have seen them go wrong with customers because of a lack of preparedness.  Here are some pitfalls that can happen with free trials.

You aren’t fully ready.

Microsoft free trials generally last 30 days. Once you activate your trial and get set up you have one month to explore the solution. All too often, customers set up the trial, forget about it for a week, come back to it and just aren’t sure what they are really looking at. Then, the trial is up. Customers often leave the trial not feeling certain about the solution because they didn’t have the time to fully explore it. It can even leave you with a bad taste for the solution because you didn’t get all your questions answered.

You don’t really understand the solution.

A trial is a great way to get the feel for a solution and understand it on a deeper level. However, if you don’t have a basic understanding of it to begin with, you won’t get much from a trial. For instance, I have had IT directors tell me that they did a free trial of Dynamics 365 Sales and they found it a little confusing. Well, no knock to my IT friends, but they just aren’t the target market for that product.  A sales leader who is much more familiar with CRM systems in general will get much more out of a trial for that product than an IT person will. The same is true of the opposite. A director of sales may not really get much out of an Microsoft Office 365 Enterprise Mobility and Security Trial, but an IT leader will have a vastly different experience.

You don’t know your business processes.

When you are evaluating a new business application you are often also evaluating your internal business processes. One mistake I see a lot with customers starting a Microsoft free trial is that they are not going through the trial with their processes in place. During a free trial you should be going through the solution and “living” your day in it. How do your processes hold up? Does the platform require some customization to make your processes work? Will you need to change internal procedures to fit yourself to the application? Going through the “vanilla” trial without keeping your processes in mind won’t give you much value and, honestly, is a waste of time.

With these caveats in mind, let’s talk about some ways to make a trial worth your time and actually get something from it.

Prep before you start.

Prior to clicking that “start trial” button, you need to take a step back and make an actionable and measurable plan for the success of the trial. The first step is to think out who your trial group will be. It is much more effective to have a small group evaluate the solution rather than one person or even the whole company. One person can’t give a well-rounded opinion and too many people can find it hard to agree unanimously.

Another important thing to do before you start is to create a “criteria” score card. What are the areas or topics surrounding the solution that are most important to you? Create a spreadsheet where everyone can rank the solution in these areas and assign deadlines to make sure they don’t run out of time before the 30 days are up! This gives everyone a goal to achieve during the trial and you know the important areas are being evaluated.

Gather your subject matter experts.

Back to my previous point, your small group should be relevant to the solution. If you are evaluating Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation you would want to involve a Project Manager, an end user (someone who will be entering time/expenses against a project), a billing/finance person, and perhaps a Director of Operations or Business Owner. This group will be able to evaluate the solution from several different perspectives, but they are all relevant to the application as users.

Have your processes documented.

Like I stated previously, if you are evaluating a new application, you are also evaluating your internal processes. In fact, I have never seen a successful solution implementation that did not include internal process review and changes.  Documenting “as is” and “to be” processes are very important to do before you start a trial. If you have been talking about putting a new application in place chances are these process changes have come up organically. Make sure you document them and have them distributed to your trial group. This will also stop the “well that’s not how we do it” comments during the trial period. As we know, doing something a certain way because that is how you’ve always done it is not only inefficient but dangerous! Make sure to keep in mind that you are doing this trial and looking for new solutions because things need to change and improve.

Another huge part of a successful Microsoft Free Trial is utilizing a partner. A Microsoft Partner is usually an IT managed service provider that is there to guide you through the process. Contact your current partner or even find a new one and have them give you a one hour walk through before you start your trial. They can point out nuances or “hidden” features in the system that may be key in the evaluation. There is no need to go in blind or alone! Contact them throughout the trial when you have questions or reach roadblocks. Just because something isn’t working for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t actually work. Microsoft does not host their trial environments and production environments together. If something isn’t functioning or is running slow, a partner can tell you if it’s something with the system or another issue.

At the end of your trial, share your findings with your partner. They may be able to look ask your evaluation and make suggestions on process improvement or even other tools that would be a better fit than what you did the trial with. In the Microsoft world, there are multiple ways to handle something and sometimes multiple solutions that can handle a task, it just depends what you are looking for functionality and user experience wise.

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KTL Solutions is proud to be a Microsoft Certified partner.

We also offer several 30-day free trials on Microsoft Office. If you’re interested, don’t forget to take the above points into consideration. A Microsoft free trial can be an extremely valuable exercise in evaluating an application. Go in it with a solid plan and you will be able to make an educational decision on the solution.

If you’re looking for an educated Microsoft-certified partner to guide you through the experience, contact us today. We’d be happy to help you navigate the world of free trials.