Will freemium services determine our business decisions?

That of Freemium services.

John Vickerage reports

There are an incredible number of free apps available on tablets and smart phones. Some offer you free access to a game, mapping tool or fitness tracker, however you have to experience fairly invasive advertising. If you become a subscriber, the ads disappear. Other apps allow no advertising, instead offering near-irresistible rewards and upgrades (usually necessary for progressing), for agreeing to make an in-app purchase or subscribe.

Spotify helped revolutionise the music industry, already unrecognisable after iTunes made music available at the touch of a button, not-to-mention the flick of a credit card. However, Spotify upped the ante by offering free access to almost any song that you could think of for free. Or, as long as you could put up with advertisements every three-four songs.

Once you decide you’ve had your fill of advertising or you want to access offline content and improve your audio quality, you can subscribe. You can even sign up to the premium for a month-long subscription so you can discover that you can’t live without it.

Whilst this made us regular consumers of music happy, it upset a few artists who felt they were not being compensated appropriately.

Business applications

This phenomenon has appeared in our business tools. The question is whether anyone else is going to be upset.

Business applications are very different to personal ones. However, saving money is just as important to a business as it is to an individual. Freemium services offer a great way to try before you buy. If the service provider misjudges the capability of the free part of the service or the user is too easily satisfied, both parties could run into problems.

Survey Monkey is a great example. A great way to get client feedback, the design of a good survey is an undervalued skill. Survey Monkey is a well recognised tool to help you do this more easily. But the free version of the service is very basic. As soon as you want to ask any clever questions, you are encouraged to get the premium version. If you choose not to, you are left with two problems.

·        The quality of the survey results is likely to be badly affected.

·        How good does it look to your prospects or clients that you are asking them to take up valuable time to respond to a survey that your business couldn’t even be bothered to pay to create.

In my opinion, if you are making business decisions on survey-based market research, your survey should be of the highest standard.

Dropbox, on the other hand, suffers with a different issue in its freemium service. Some companies try to take care over information that the company and its employees have. In fact, there is a whole industry built on knowledge management. Imagine how much company information is drifting around out there in services such as Dropbox. If several employees are using Dropbox as a freemium solution, there will likely be multiple iterations of company data stored in such a way that the same employees can still access after they have left the company. Some companies will feel this is a security risk. It is also incredibly inefficient.


I know of another online communication provider that offers a limited ongoing free trial of their solution. In their case, what they allow users to do for free is arguably too feature-rich. Many users currently happily use the service without paying for it. Then they happily tell everyone that they are using it – but the provider gets nothing; no subscription payments, no advertising revenues. Similarly, to the Survey Monkey example though, how good does it look if your business has employees using free services to communicate with customers and suppliers?

The problem is that, unlike personal-use Freemium services, there is a disconnect between the user and the decision maker in any business. Just because two or three, or maybe even 10 employees are using a freemium tool, doesn’t mean the business is open to deploying it amongst all employees. Often, the users are not the ones who make strategic or tactical buying decisions. In fact, that’s probably why they’re using a free service in the first place.

If your employees are using these services, it could mean that there is a real need for the technology in your business. Alternatively, it could mean they are not aware of the tools you already have in your business helping them achieve the same thing. Why not conduct a survey (a free one is okay in this case)? Check what tools your team is using, establish what tools they really feel they need and get great benefit from.

The correct use of a Freemium service in business is to prove the case for your business, not for an individual. If you can determine what tools your employees need, you can set up a proper test plan. It’s not about getting free stuff; correctly deployed technology should save you time and money anyway.

Try before you buy is nothing new. However. internet-accessed services have spawned a more modern concept.

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