• Too often, gating content is the fallback of an emerging company’s marketing team under pressure to deliver leads
  • Instead, the goal must be to focus on creating a compelling buyer’s journey
  • Organizations need to know the difference between a contact and a lead – and educate your executives and sales team accordingly

It’s that time of year: sales are down, the clock is ticking, and the panic is on: “We need more leads!”

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen marketing leaders (including me) simply react and start gating everything so that they can hit some arbitrary lead number and then be able to blame sales for not closing all of those “amazing” leads. But let’s be honest – attracting new prospects within a quarter and expecting them to close immediately is not realistic in most cases, and often reveals a gap in process or resources in either sales or marketing, or both. And these gaps are much more apparent in emerging growth companies, because unlike in larger, more established companies, the speed of change makes a single quarter extremely critical to overall success,

stone gate open to pathTo prevent this executive panic from occurring in the first place, make sure you have an agreed-upon and comprehensive marketing plan like the SiriusDecisions Anatomy of an Emerging-Company Marketing Plan. But even with a plan in place, we all know that executives and sales leaders will turn to leads the minute revenue is down, so be ready to have that conversation. The first step in being prepared is to be clear about what a lead is and is not. A lead doesn’t simply contain someone’s information – that’s just a contact. And it’s not someone who has simply responded to one of your campaigns or visited your website – that’s a single act of engagement.

A lead is someone who fits your demographic and firmographic target criteria, has a need you can fill, finds value in your solution, and is willing (and able) to buy. Oh, and sales and marketing should have agreed upon these criteria before any marketing programs were created. Sounds simple, right? However, targeting the right person, taking them through a compelling buyer’s journey, and convincing them that they can trust you to solve their problem does not happen by sending a contact a single email.

A true lead is the result of a well thought out and compelling buyer’s journey. The buyer’s journey should be incorporated into a campaign that drives reputation, creates demand, enables sales, and engages customers through inbound and outbound activities that support achievement of the goals of the marketing plan. So, the more critical question should not be whether to gate or not. It should be, “Do we have a consistent and compelling buyer’s journey to drive leads to close?”

Your buyer’s journey should consist of multiple touches (human and non-human) that drive engagement and ultimately result in the contact wanting to learn more about you and acting to do so. Once you engage the contact properly, they become a prospect. From there, it’s about offering a learning path that they feel is personal and applicable to their problem. Then, and only then, do you pass this lead to sales or telesales.

A true buyer’s journey is not a single stop. It’s a series of stops along an education, solution and selection path, with exciting learnings and experiences along the way that make it a journey. I remember taking my son to Paris one summer and instead of joining a guided tour, we rented bicycles and explored. Luckily, the local government made the journey simple by having easy-to-find signs pointing to exciting museums, parks and restaurants – and Paris also made bicycles readily available for rent. As we began our journey, we really had no clue what we were going to find, but my son and I will never forget leaving a café and following a small sign to an archaeological dig of a Roman settlement right underneath Notre-Dame Cathedral! My son is sold on Paris now (and wants to learn French), not because we went to one museum, but because we explored and created our own journey.

Imagine if the City of Paris had stopped us on our first day after we had only seen one museum and asked us to spend money on a condo right then and there. “Umm…I just got here; not sure Paris is the place for me.” Your customers are the same way. When you gate content too early, especially without a learning journey in place, you force them to make a decision that they aren’t ready to make. Instead, make exciting learnings available to them and let them explore at their own pace before asking them to buy.

As a rule, I do not gate ANY content that is not clearly an exchange of value for both my company and the prospect. For example, analyst reports and whitepapers provide great value but are very expensive and time-consuming to create, so asking your prospect to pay for that by giving you their contact information makes sense. However, gating a case study or podcast is not a good idea, as the content is usually very early in the journey and is meant to create interest, not provide extensive value. The prospect is still learning; give him or her the space and grace to explore. Provide prospects with as much free content as possible so that when the really valuable content is presented, they will engage without question because they feel that they have received enough value from you leading up to the exchange of contact information.

When you are asked to provide leads, your first response should never be to simply gate content. Instead, take a step back and evaluate your content in a new way. Have you presented your content in a way that is compelling and interesting? Are you dumping content on a site, or are you creating a journey for your prospects?

Do you even know who the right prospect is and what type of content they need to make a purchasing decision? That’s a discussion for another day, but you get the picture.

When you are ready to add gated content to your buyer’s journey, see the brief “Gating Web Content the Sirius Way.”