When you’re planning your GTM, every strategic decision can either be a puzzle or an opportunity, or both. One such challenge that has sparked heated debates and thoughtful discussions is the use of gated content.
But there’s a problem with gated content today, given that marketers and sales folks are in on the play. They fully know that irrespective of the value it may offer, gated content is a way to get contact info of prospects and nurture them for sales.
While gated content can be a great way to generate, qualify, and nurture leads, ungated content is the one that builds awareness and trust with a wider audience.
In this blog, we'll explore the complexities surrounding the problem with gated content. Instead of taking sides, let’s get into the tactical perspective behind gated content, and examine the intriguing shift within SaaS marketing toward demand generation and ungated content.
The gated content conundrum
Gated content, for the uninitiated, involves locking premium content behind a virtual gate. To access valuable resources such as eBooks, whitepapers, solution guides, webinars, or product demos, users are required to provide personal information.
Personal information in the form of a name, email address, company size, and other form-fills that could help personalize contact lists and future nurtures.
This strategy was once hailed as the ultimate lead generation technique, and for good reason. The idea was simple: by offering valuable content, you could entice users to share their contact details.
It’s a no-brainer that meetings and demos are gated for they’re the ultimate culmination of buyer journey and intent. But we can’t continue to hold the same opinion for other content
The modern pitfalls of gated content
Gated content is getting saturated in a world where thought leadership, product discussions, and strategies are now open conversations on LinkedIn, Twitter, user communities and forums, podcasts, and YouTube, to name a few.
Fake contact info is a thing now
Let’s try to be honest here. We’re all guilty of filling up fake emails and names just because we really just needed to read a gated content and not get bombarded with sales pitches.
This ruins the pipeline health of marketers and sales reps who depend on the lead count and the legitimacy of contacts when they gauge the success of the gated content.
Prospects tend to give it a miss
Modern buyers are more discerning and less patient. They might be hesitant to hand over their contact details for something they can't immediately evaluate and get value out.
Instead, building a consistent demand generation flow with valuable ungated content and gating only the buying trigger will ensure a smoother lead-to-conversion process.
Trusting your data over content takes a lot of deliberation
Again, I’m going to ask you to look inwards. How many times have you skipped an enticing topic that speaks about your pain but skipped it because it’s gated? Maybe, it would have made sense a few years back.
But today, we’re spoiled with good content that’s not hidden behind a form submit. Well, at least personally, my LinkedIn bookmarks will run out of space soon. There’s not enough incentive to go through the hassle of sharing your data for a piece of content.
Your gated content download lists are not always MQLs
Intent has to be explicit. Content downloads aren’t instant buying signals that your sales reps can make use of. There are other triggers you can use to qualify leads, such as:
- CRM activity on feature pages
- Role, industry, and decision-making power of the prospects
- Freemium and free trial users
- In-app meeting requests from free trial/freemium users
- Demo request form
- Form submitted but meeting not scheduled
The gated content they downloaded is just one part of their journey. All you can do is to have the right systems in place to instantly qualify leads, enable prospects to schedule meetings right after form-fill, and route them to the right sales rep or AE – when they do explicitly register their intent to try your product.
It's still not all black and white
Dealing with gated content is not a simple binary choice. It's not a matter of "gated content is bad" or "ungated content is good." The effectiveness of gated content depends on the unique characteristics of your business and your target audience.
Let's look at a couple of scenarios to dive deeper:
Scenario 1: An enterprise B2B software
Imagine a B2B software company specializing in complex solutions for enterprise-level clients with decision makers such as CTO or VP of Product. In this scenario, gated content might make sense.
Because you want to narrow down your audience to the truly high-intent prospects who are ready to consume your content to understand your product before making a decision.
The target audience consists of decision-makers and professionals who require in-depth information to make informed choices.
Providing whitepapers and webinars behind a gate allows the company to capture valuable leads. This approach aligns with the longer sales cycles often seen in the enterprise B2B sector.
Scenario 2: A pipeline acceleration software
Now, consider a pipeline acceleration software focussed on lead conversions and meeting booking. In this case, ungated content is more suitable because the decision makers are primarily going to be GTM directors, marketers, and sales VPs.
The goal is to drive immediate sales and engage customers quickly. For this audience, providing lead management tips, customer journey templates, and buyer experience guides without any entry barriers ensures a frictionless experience.
This is basically giving them what they need instantly to build trust with your brand and make evaluation that much more easier.
The decision makers in this scenario don’t want to download content after submitting their email, only to go on a long voyage of nurtures about your marketing collateral and solutions – while they’ve probably shopped around and moved on to a competitor that provides instant gratification.
The decision to gate or ungate content should be based on your specific business goals and the expectations of your target audience.
Why SaaS marketing is leaning towards demand generation and ungated content
SaaS marketing has been at the forefront of this shift toward demand generation and ungated content. Let's explore why:
Content as a trust builder
SaaS companies rely on trust and reputation. Providing valuable content, such as blog posts, how-to guides, and tutorials, without gating it, fosters trust and positions the company as an industry authority. This complements the demand generation strategy.
Buyer experience matters!
The modern SaaS user values a smooth and transparent experience. Gating content can disrupt the user journey, potentially leading to frustration and abandonment.
Ungated content ensures a frictionless buying journey right until your prospects find a trigger to reach out to your sales by submitting their contact.
Data is at the core of ungated content
SaaS companies heavily rely on data and analytics. By analyzing user behavior on ungated content, they can gather insights into what messaging resonates with their audience and tailor their GTM and product offerings accordingly.
This is something that’s a black box with gated content and the data is skewed to downloads and form-fills rather than actual engagement metrics that give you a picture of how your attribution is working.
SEO isn’t dead (yet)
Ungated content can help improve search engine optimization (SEO) by providing valuable content that can be indexed and ranked by search engines. This can help increase brand visibility and attract more visitors to a website. SEO still works wonders if your content offers unique perspectives without keyword stuffing.
Interactive product demos and videos
Interactive product demos help capture your prospect’s imagination before moving them towards a demo request form. Simply put, this is a way of ungating your product—or at least the basics of what your product does and looks like—by setting the right expectations before they even decide to talk to an AE for a more personalized walkthrough.
So where does gated content actually work?
Now that we've established the efficacy of ungated content over gated, let’s find out where gated content can genuinely shine. By understanding the scenarios in which gating your content makes sense, you can make informed decisions about incorporating this strategy into your content marketing plan.
1. B2B enterprise lead generation
Gated content has historically thrived in enterprise B2B settings, and it still plays a crucial role in this arena.
Because of the painstakingly long sales cycles, number of decision-maker buy-ins, legal hurdles, customization requests, and product complexities, gathering contacts and nurturing them over a period of time might work better.
This is not to say that the focus should be all on gated content for B2B enterprises. But if you can provide them with solid content that keeps them engaged with your brand and helps them solve their day-to-day problems, the correlation between high intent prospects and form submissions for content downloads might be significantly higher.
Consider these cases:
Industry reports: Complex, data-driven industry reports are valuable resources for professionals seeking in-depth insights. Gating such reports can attract a highly targeted audience interested in the latest industry trends and data, and build authority over the company’s expertise in the domain.
A great way to leave breadcrumbs for future rapport is sending reports from the sales rep who owns the account of the prospect.
If you go one step further, your SDRs can add a link within the email to relay a meeting to one of your AEs.
Webinars and case studies: In B2B, decision-makers often need comprehensive information to evaluate solutions, which cannot be conventionally mentioned in websites or blogs. Gating webinars or in-depth case studies can attract leads genuinely interested in your product or service.
But it’s the nurture after the webinar that matters. In these nurtures, enabling your prospects to book time over a 1-click calendar link when they come across the right trigger that nudges them to talk to your sales.
Since there’s no need to ask these prospects for their contact information, helping them instantly schedule a meeting will be a clincher.
Exclusive research: If your company conducts proprietary research, gating this unique content can be an effective lead generation tool, especially when it addresses a specific pain point within your industry.
2. High-value offerings
Gated content is most effective when the content itself has high perceived value. Creating a barrier for entry into this type of content might work in favor of generating leads.
For instance, many companies offer certification programs or courses that hold substantial value in specific industries. Not only do they help upskill their prospects, but they also position their products by designing the course around those features.
There’s a reason why Salesforce practitioners love flaunting their credentials and certifications. Salesforce’s courses keep feeding the demand for their products with their learning and upskilling play.
3. Loooong (really long) sales cycles
For businesses with extended sales cycles, gated content can serve as a means of nurturing leads over time. By offering comprehensive resources behind the gate, you can:
Educate and inform: Provide your audience with the information they need to make informed decisions over the long term.
Qualify leads: Gating content throughout the sales funnel allows you to qualify leads at various stages, ensuring that you focus your resources on those who are genuinely interested.
4. Personalization and segmentation
Gated content can be valuable for collecting specific information about your leads. This, in turn, enables you to deliver personalized content and offers. Consider these tactics:
Gated surveys and quizzes: By gating surveys and quizzes, you can gather valuable data about your leads' preferences and pain points, allowing you to tailor your content and offerings accordingly.
Here’s an example of Freshdesk, using quizzers to engage their end-users who are essentially customer service practitioners. Based on the results of the gamified quiz, personalized recommendations are delivered over a series of email nurtures.
Progressive lead scoring: Use gated content to progressively gather more information about your leads over time, making your lead nurturing efforts more precise and effective based on their levels of engagement through various content downloads or form-fills.
HubSpot offers some targeted content templates as downloadables for end-users who have a healthy chance of using their sales or marketing suites in the future.
We’re not anti-gated content, but…
As user preferences and expectations in content consumption continue to evolve, adaptability is the key. The lines between lead and demand generation are becoming increasingly blurred, and businesses must be prepared to shift their content strategies accordingly.
Yes, gated content has its place in the marketing toolbox, and, in certain situations, it can be the linchpin of your lead generation efforts. But with ungated content and demand generation taking precedence, now is a good time to focus more on them over trusting gated content as a sustainable growth engine.
With ungated content as your compass, people come from multiple sources and varied levels of intent. The bigger picture is to ensure that you are fully equipped to talk to them immediately when they reach out to you once your marketing efforts are paying off.
Instead of taking the longer route of gated content and lead generation, you can:
- Qualify users instantly based on automated conditions once they request a demo instead of using gated content as a qualification benchmark.
- Allow them to schedule a meeting instantly with your sales reps or AEs when they submit a form.
- Create a strong marketing-to-sales nexus and handover by maintaining CRM health with all the right information about buyer journey, channels, and touchpoints.