The premise of content marketing is that by reviewing information provided by your company, prospects begin to trust your company and understand the value of your product; marketing departments receive new leads (often through gated content); and sales departments receive better qualified leads from marketing which they then contact, assuming the prospect is ready to talk.
Unfortunately, there are problems with this strategy:
- You assume the content your company provides is what your most valuable prospects need to get ready to buy. This means that you know absolutely who your target audience is, and they can easily get to the content they need. But if you have prospects who never engage with your content, then you have no idea that they were ever part of the process. You only learn about those who connected. Which means your most valuable potential customers may never contact you.
- You’ve done a great job in creating targeted content that presents exactly the sort of information your key decision makers want, but you’re relying on their ability to recall what they read or watched on your site when making decisions on which companies to pursue.
I. You assume your content is what your most valuable prospects need.
We know that prospects are researching online. According to a survey by Forrester in 2015, 74% of business buyers surveyed reported that “they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.” And buyers know that at some point they’re probably going to need to talk to a salesperson, especially if it’s a complex solution. The question is not if they should talk to sales, but when?
Prospects need to be motivated to speak with a salesperson, and the problem with the typical content marketing approach is the content provided isn’t enough to motivate them to take that step. This is where companies try to incentivize behavior by offering something for giving up the prospect’s anonymity: premium content, free trials, freemium subscriptions, discounts, etc.
According to a recent survey in “Rethink the B2B Buyer’s Journey: The Transformed Relationship between Buyers, Marketers and Salespeople,” LinkedIn reported a startling disconnect between the content marketers were publishing and that desired by buyers. For example, 35% of buyers preferred “product info, features, functions,” closely followed by “demos” (at 31%). But marketers believed their case studies were their most effective content (at 27%), and only 18% believed their demos were effective.
It’s clear that buyers are looking for specific information: They’re looking for how to use the product and to learn how it may fit in with their current environment (hence, interest in features and functions). Demos also give them that info, but case studies and whitepapers are either about other companies or are high-level thought leadership that doesn’t pertain specifically to the buyer’s need. As LinkedIn put it, “Product information, data sheets and demos, are table stakes – the baseline information necessary to be among the consideration set. But buyers also need broader information to help them on the way to making the final purchase decision.”
But how to approach delivering content that addresses the “broader information needed?” One way is to remember the primary reason the prospect was researching in the first place:
They had a problem.
Your blog posts, FAQs, videos, discounts and premium content are not likely to solve their problem because you’re showing them what you think they want. Instead, you should deliver real value to the prospect by offering a way to actually explore and work with your product.
Let them think of how your product would fit within their environment and let them contact you when they’re ready.
Free Trials, Freemiums, and Self-guided Demos
When it comes to using free trials and freemium subscriptions, forEntrepreneurs did a study for the 4th year in a row with Pacific Crest Securities to survey 305 SaaS companies, and what they found was “Approximately 30% of companies derive some amount of new ACV [Annual Customer Value] from ‘freemium’ strategies,” but “‘Try Before You Buy’ is much more commonly used: 60% derive revenues through this strategy, and 30% derive the majority of their new ACV through ‘Try Before You Buy.’”
Allowing prospects to self-explore your product online is a newer way of addressing this part of the sales process, so it hasn’t become commonplace enough for statistical relevance. But, essentially, you provide an interactive demo (separate from your application) that allows them to explore key parts of the application. That way the prospect focuses on core features without being overwhelmed.
Okay, Crystal, so we’ll focus on driving people to our free trial. Thanks!
Not so fast. By offering free trials and freemium subscriptions, you’re gambling your revenue growth goals on how well your product is designed. Because if your user can’t understand how to use your product fast enough to find the solution to their problem, they are going to move on to something else.
Which is one of the reasons companies want to gate this type of content and force a prospect to talk to a salesperson. Companies fear the prospect might get confused, not understand the value proposition, or have technical issues, and then sales loses that prospect. So companies force people to talk to sales because they’re afraid they haven’t done a good enough job building a user-friendly product or presenting the product’s value online. That is a terrible reason to force an interested prospect to talk to a salesperson--
--Because the prospect isn’t ready to buy yet.
Salespeople should not be used to overcome problems with how the product was built or the lack of a compelling message. Those are problems that lie outside the sales department and shouldn’t be resolved by salespeople. Instead, companies should provide the right product experience with the right message in a manner that is always the right time for the prospect, allowing the prospect to come to the salesperson when he or she is actually ready to buy.
II. You know exactly the content your most valuable prospects need.
Now, let’s say you have the research, the personas, the qualitative feedback, and the analytics to prove that you have created content that presents exactly the sort of information your target audience wants.
But, now you have another problem. What are the chances that person on the other side of the network connection is going to remember what he or she read--moreover that the prospective buyer will use that information in early stage decision making?
This could be a problem if your company is basing sales goals on a belief that prospects will remember what they’ve read or watched on your site.
In “Some Effects of Remembering on Forgetting,” researcher Williard Runquist conducted 6 tests of college-aged male and female subjects in order to determine ability to recall random word associations under different conditions. Fifteen minutes after learning the random word associations, subjects were tested. Their ability to recall the associations correctly was between 31-60%, depending on the various learning conditions. After only 1 week, those same subjects could only correctly recall between 7-35% of word associations. The amount of forgetting was evaluated as high as 89% of material forgotten--after only 1 week.
So even if you have the right message, reaching the right person, at the right time, there is almost 90% chance they will have completely forgotten that message within as little as 7 days.
That’s a very large gamble on your content’s effectiveness. Wouldn’t offering them a chance to experience your product be more valuable to your prospects?
Some Last Remarks on Gating Content
If your goal is to increase sales (through qualified leads), engage early buyers by giving them what they need in a hands-off manner. Let them explore your product through a free-trial, freemium subscription, or a self-guided tour which is valuable enough content for prospects to be open to providing you their contact information.
But, be extremely selective in the rest of the content you gate. You should never gate content that demonstrates your thought leadership (white papers, case studies, articles, webinars, etc.). You want prospects to trust you more than your competition. Why make that hard for them?
If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’d love to know what types of content you offer. Is there anything unique that you’ve created? How does that content perform against other more common types of content (case studies, whitepapers, blog posts, videos) typically offered by SaaS companies?