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The more work that a content team puts into something, the more likely they are to want to lock it up behind a gate, requiring visitors to share their email address or the horror their phone number for access.

It seems like a fair exchange, right? The site visitor wants this information. The marketing team wants leads. Except there’s not much correlation between interest in that content and actual desire to buy a product right now. And if your goal is true thought leadership, you should be looking to get your big ideas in front of as many people as possible. That content gate is locking you in as much as it’s locking others out.

Smart marketers are looking for new ways to engage site visitors and develop relationships with them beyond simple gates. I reached out to Aaron Dun of SnapApp to get his take on how to make content more accessible and drive leads.

The idea of using email-gated white papers to ‘qualify’ leads pre-dates our current concept of content marketing. Why do you think this notion has been so persistent?

As marketers, we’re constantly trying to figure out some way to get people to raise their hand and say “I’m interested in your company.” The notion of a lead-gated white paper has been around for awhile, but maybe not as long as you might think.

Five-plus years ago marketers were really thinking differently about how to scale their demand-gen efforts, particularly in B2B. The whole content marketing movement was happening, and it was focused on “create awesome content.” In parallel, HubSpot was championing this notion of inbound: “Hey, rather than spamming people with outbound email and hammering away at pay-for-click ads, get them to raise their hand, come to your website and consume great content. Now you have a lead that you can work with.”

The intersection of those two moments — content marketing folks saying “Produce awesome content and tell a better story” and HubSpot saying “The only real way to drive your business forward is through inbound,” as they defined it — really created this tidal wave of where we are today. Marketers are over-relying on the lead gate in front of their content as a primary way to drive new leads and drive them into their process.

What do you lose out on by keeping content gated this way?

When you gate content, you’re basically forcing people to give you information to access your idea. One of the things I think HubSpot did get right in their mantra is “Why are you asking people to get married if you haven’t had a first date yet?”

I don’t know if your content is any good. I don’t know if your ideas are any good. I don’t know if I want to actually engage with that content and you’re forcing me to make a choice. Is it worth it to give up my information knowing full well I’m going to get a sales call 32 seconds later? So you see the rise of many people putting in fake information and really devaluing that lead capture process.

But the other problem is that in 2017 and beyond, I don’t believe that prospects are engaging with content as a way to signal of buying intent. Despite our best efforts to have great top- and bottom-of-the-funnel content and to use that content, behavior and activity to signal where somebody is on their buyer’s journey, it just doesn’t work that way. We’re fooling ourselves into thinking that this person who downloaded my awesome piece of content is actually a lead at any stage of the funnel. They’re not; they just thought your content was interesting.

In that world, there’s no reason to hide your best content behind a gate. If your goal is to spread your idea and people aren’t engaging with your idea as a signal of buying intent, then there’s no reason to gate it. You’re hindering the distribution of your idea.

What does ‘ungating’ look like? Walk me through the experience of engaging with content using SnapApp as a visitor to a site. Then, what does it look like from the marketer’s perspective?

Let’s say you go to a blog post about “top five trends in business XYZ.” Oftentimes alongside that blog post you might see a “Fill out this form and download this related white paper about how you can lean into those trends in 2018.” With SnapApp, what you might see instead is a quiz that says “Take this short quiz to test your understanding of the impact of these trends on your business.”

As a result of taking this quiz, you’re going to get a sense for how prepared you are for this thing that’s coming or these trends that are happening in your industry. You might actually want to take that quiz. You’re interested to know how you’re doing. So you take the quiz. You go through, you answer a couple questions, and that data is being captured into the marketing automation platform which is then helping your business determine whether or not they’re a good prospect for you because of how they’ve answered those questions.

Some of our customers actually put a form right before the results. ”This is great. We’re preparing your results now. Just give us your name, email address and company and here come your results.” Frequently people say, “You know what? I’m getting something of value and I’m willing to give you my information.” We have a tremendous number of stats about people who get to that point in the experience and they are happy to provide their information because they’re getting something of value.

Another way to do it is to let people get their results and then offer them another piece of content, what I call ‘the next action to do something else.’ “Hey, you thought this was really interesting? You might think this other experience over here is really interesting,” or “Sign up for a 15-minute consultation with our strategy team on how you can make this work for you.” If you’re intrigued then maybe you go access the content. If you’re thinking “This is really engaging and I actually want to talk to this company,” you might fill out the form that says “Yes, I want to set up a time with your strategy team.”

So you’re creating rooms for people to engage in your content stream, but then also ways to get off, that are high-value actions for sales. Someone takes the quiz and then takes the piece of content, that accesses the content, maybe not a lead for sales yet. But if they choose the path that says “Yes, I’m interested in a 15-minute strategy session or a demo of your product” then they’ve raised their hand and said “I want to talk to you.”

We talk about, this notion of the resource center on a website–particularly in B2B marketing, which is basically categorized static content. However, you could create a resource center on a particular topic, and within that topic-specific resource you can have all your interactive elements. As opposed to just a bunch of white papers and e-books, you have your assessments, your quiz, you might even have a calculator where you get people to engage differently. In our world those are all experiences built in SnapApp that are then posted and hosted on your website.

I can hear the salespeople squealing already. How are they supposed to get leads through content if marketing doesn’t bring them this list of downloads?

The reality of it is you have to show the sales team the sales funnel map and show them that they had been wasting their time. They might be mad about that, but it becomes pretty compelling when you do your funnel conversion and attribution map. When you can say “OK, I sent you 500 leads from all of my content downloads and those 500 leads converted down the top of the sales funnel at, let’s say, 2 percent,” which would be pretty good. Then maybe one of those turns into an opportunity and none of them turn into a deal and you multiply that out.

Then the other area of opportunity is “I’ve got people who raised their hand and say they want a demo or they started a free trial of our product.” They might be converting down the sales funnel to the next step 30 percent of the time, and they’re converting the revenue 25 percent of the time.

When we look at our bookings or revenue attribution, we can see that the vast majority of the marketing-driven revenue comes from demo requests and free trials and those kinds of things, and practically none from white paper downloads. You’re putting up a lot of activity for no business benefit. Now, everybody’s funnel is different, everybody’s attribution models are different, but I believe now in my fifth company of doing this that even a rudimentary analysis shows that the value just isn’t there in those whitepaper download leads, so why bother?.

What’s your advice on making the case inside your organization to shift to this ungated approach?

It requires a change to your marketing strategy; it requires a change in your sales org because you have got to fill up that activity with something else. It’s not an easy transition to make. But I think we’re at the tipping point where you need to make this change because the old way is just not working.

I think that the best sales and marketing relationships are formed in the crucible of trying to figure out how to scale the business. You both have the same objective. How can we scale the business? I would like to think that marketing leadership and sales leadership can have a structured and strategic conversation around how to transform the activity to scale the business in whatever way that looks.