You know when you find yourself interested in something new — maybe learning a new hobby or trying out a product you’ve heard good things about? You probably want to research everything you can about that topic. This is particularly relevant right now with so many of us looking for ways to spend our extra time at home. Maybe you want to take up photography, buy a new bike, or plant a garden.
So you dive head first into researching everything you can about that topic. (In marketing speak, we’d liken this to the awareness or consideration stage of the buyer journey.) You read all the articles from experts, watch all the how-to videos, and research what gear you need to get started.
Then, just as you’re narrowing down the best camera lenses for capturing your beautiful blooming butterfly garden — you’re stonewalled by a form.
“If you’d like to read ABC Company’s guide to choosing camera lenses, please enter your full name, email address, company name, astrological sign, and blood type.”
Damn. You really wanted to learn which types of lenses ABC Company recommends, but you’re just not ready to share all your information with them yet. But, oh look! XYZ Company has a guide to camera lenses as well, and it’s ungated! Guess which seller you’ll be learning from…
Form fills are the junk food of marketing (tastes good, but little nutritional value)
Marketers get to live on both sides of the content gate. As consumers, we don’t want to fill out a form any more than any other buyer. Because we of all people know what happens when we raise our hand by filling out a form. We’ll get called, emailed, carrier pigeoned, and candy-grammed. And while being contacted is great when you want to talk to someone, it’s not so great when you’re just trying to do some research and are nowhere near ready to make a purchase decision.
One way I try to avoid unwanted interactions is by putting fake info on forms. My go-to name and email address is Hermoine Granger and [email protected]. Sometimes this method works and I get the content I want. But more often, marketers are too smart for that, and their forms are set up to email you the content rather than provide an instant download. So, if I put in my phony email address I’ll never get that report I wanted (and instead, Hermoine will be sitting in the Great Hall poring over it, sharing interesting data points with Harry and Ron). So, I give up and move on. Probably won’t engage with content from that brand again. It’s too much work.
But what about our leads?!
In research our team conducted with Heinz Marketing, we found that over half (53%) of account-driven companies are still gating their content. The practice is alive and well and the fear of “losing” leads is a big part of that.
I’m personally no stranger to gating content. Prior to 6sense, I worked with several B2B organizations that use content gating as a key tactic for obtaining inbound leads. But this not only impacts the buyer experience; it can also be a really mixed bag for content creators. We work hard on developing/writing/designing a great new piece of content, only to have a lead form slapped on it, making it less accessible and less likely for people to actually see. On the other hand, we also get excited when we hear how our content is helping drive inbound. Your ebook got 50 downloads! Wee!
Unfortunately, the quality of leads obtained this way can leave a lot to be desired (they’re often junk) and our research finds that companies have increasingly recognized they can’t hit revenue targets by largely relying on inbound leads.
Even if a lead from a gated content download is deemed “good,” it often arrives too late to the party. At least 70% of the buyer journey is completed anonymously, so inbound lead strategies typically capture prospects that are further along and already evaluating multiple vendors. The window of opportunity to make a meaningful impact on a purchase decision is often already closing by the time a BDR/SDR reaches out in response to a form fill.
Tracking buyer activity without gated content
In our study, 1 in 3 companies said content marketing is one of the most valuable ways they generate demand, but only 38% said they have the ability to track content consumption without gating it. For organizations that are primarily focused on lead generation, gated content makes sense. But for truly account-driven organizations, gating content runs counter to the goal of delivering a top-notch experience and increasing engagement with key accounts.
Fortunately, you can track buyer activity and personalize the content experience when equipped with the right account-based technology. These are solutions (like 6sense) that allow you to understand how and when accounts are engaged and in-market for a product or service like yours — even when they’re doing their research anonymously. For account-based marketers, this means delivering more value beyond the top of the funnel and meeting buyers where they are, with relevant engagement at every step.
In her book No Forms. No Spam. No Cold Calls., Latané Conant shares what customer experience looks like without forms: “We’re now completely honed in on a personalized experience on our website. When future customers visit our site, we know their account, their industry, and their business size. We know their persona. And most importantly, we know their intent keywords (i.e., what they’re searching for) and where they are in their buying journey. So we can serve them up content that is most relevant to what they’re researching and most effective for their stage in the buying process.”
When you know which accounts you want to engage with and when they’re showing intent to buy, you want to make their experience with your brand as seamless as possible. Forms only add unnecessary friction.
How 6sense customers go form-free
This no-gated-content stuff can be a lot to digest, especially if you’ve been relying on traditional inbound lead-based strategies. So don’t take my word for it. Our customer GAN Integrity recently underwent this transformation in their own organization. They’re fresh off a website redesign during which they took down all content forms to “remove friction for prospects.”
It’s impossible to build predictable revenue growth if your sales and marketing resources are being spent on bad-fit accounts, lackluster content experiences, and trying to track down Hermoine Granger on LinkedIn. (Tip: They have a different version for the wizarding world called Linkempra Inunculus and it’s super exclusive; you have to get an invite via owl post.)
There’s plenty of room on this gateless bandwagon if you’re ready to start serving up better content experiences for your existing and future customers. Want to learn more? Check out this video about how we run our content strategy at 6sense (no form fill required)!