When it comes to B2B content, lead generation is the holy grail, and the content marketer's
job is to keep that sacred chalice full so your knights of the sales roundtable can drink
the glorious waters of eternal revenue. But not all chalices are holy, and not all leads
are equally good.
Yes, Some Leads Can Be Bad
Content marketers love leads because they represent the end of the road for us. Leads are as
far as we go. We lead the horses to water. We don't make them drink. There are usually too
many other factors that influence a sale for us to really take credit for it. So naturally
we're inclined to transform prospects into leads as quickly as possible, and we're often
pressured to by various stakeholders. However, leads are not the end-all and be-all for your
Content marketing often tries to "fast-forward" the journey down the funnel by trying to go
directly from awareness (which talks about the problem your prospects face) to lead-gen,
skipping over the consideration stage (which educates prospects about what you sell) entirely,
shifting a sizable (and critical) percentage of those education duties away from your
marketing content to your salespeople.
But pushing the work to sales is not an absolute good. What happens when a salesperson tells
a prospect something about what you sell that's a dealbreaker? The prospect leaves, of course,
giving their business to a competitor, which wastes your salesperson's time, and does some of
that competitor's marketing work for them. Congratulations, you've just spent a chunk of your
sales budget serving up a nice juicy lead to the opposition.
But if that prospect had learned that dealbreaking fact while consuming a piece of
consideration content instead, that salesperson's time wouldn't have been wasted at all. And
your only sunk cost would be what you spent on the content, instead of the salesperson's time
(the latter is usually more valuable).
Hurrying Doesn't Necessarily Get You There Faster
But even if that doesn't happen, a content marketer's time isn't necessarily saved by skipping
over consideration, because the product education work still needs to be done, and sales will
often need content support for that to happen, which will often involve creating new and
different consideration content pieces than the ones you've already made (because the
conversation will be unfolding differently under their guidance than it would if the prospect
was learning entirely on their own).
Thus, ad hoc requests come back to you from sales, and you end up having to make more content
than you might have otherwise needed if sales was doing less educating. However, content
marketers shouldn't view this as a distraction, because sales is always educating leads that
come in via other routes (tradeshows, prior relationships, etc.), though you do need to have
the resources to handle these requests (because unexpected requests from sales always come up
no matter how well you plan).
The takehome lesson here is that content marketers can't simply view leads as the end of the
road, because if you skip consideration, you're effectively detouring those prospects to
another road. And if you're wondering at this point which road is preferable, I certainly
don't know that. And you probably don't either. There are a lot of variables here. The only
way you're going to know is to converse with sales and marketing leaders about this. Though
if I was an in-house content marketer, I certainly wouldn't just talk to sales straight away.
I'd talk to the head of marketing (i.e., your boss) first, because marketing and sales may
have different priorities depending on how they're incentivized.
Lead-Gen Doesn't Always Work As Intended
One way marginal leads get generated is through gated content, because people will frequently
lie, giving a false name and/or false email address in order to get the content. Then what
have you accomplished? Sure, the content has (assuming it gets read) done the job of
awareness, and if the prospect is looking to buy now, they may reach out to you after
finishing the content.
But even if the content is very good and effective, the odds of that happening are fairly
low, because B2B buying cycles are five years long, leaving only
5% of your prospects looking
to buy at any one time. Which means that even if you get an email address, that person might
have switched companies by the time their previous employer is ready to buy, putting you
back to square one with them. So, again, leads aren't all they're cracked up to be.
How Is This Helping?
At this point, you might be getting a little tired of me poo-pooing lead-gen content. I'm
not saying don't do it. I'm just saying don't do it recklessly. You need quantity and
quality when it comes to leads. Be smart about it, so that you generate a better quality
of leads, without wasting your brand equity.
Minimize Gated Content
Marketers often love gated content. But content people tend to hate it, for two reasons.
First, gating decreases your reach, a lot. Exactly how much is hard to say, but there's
out there suggesting it could be in the 50-70% range. Many people just aren't
comfortable giving out contact details, with a recent survey of medium and large business
buyers (same source as the just-quoted stat) indicating that 25% won't give out contact
details for gated content under any circumstances.
And the second reason is the one we told you about in the previous section. A lead for
Seymour Butts at firstname.lastname@example.org is no lead at all, with that same survey suggesting
that 25% of buyers will do something like this.
I'm not saying don't gate at all. There's always a balance of factors to consider. But if
you want the short version of "When is gating appropriate?" the answer is, "Would people
pay for this information? Is it of comparable value to something an analyst firm might
publish?" If the answer is yes then you can think about gating it (though the content will
need to be advertised in the right way to convey that value to your prospects).
But on the whole, I tend to think that keeping your content ungated drives more leads over
the long run than gating. Brandbuilding (i.e., mindshare) driven by freely available
high-quality content will do what needs to be done, with gating the marketing equivalent
of demanding a second date before the first date has really started.
Pair Lead-Gen More With Consideration & Less With Awareness
Publishing more consideration content is bound to increase the quality of the leads that
inevitably get through because whoever makes it will be better educated, and assuming
you're selling something competitive and presented well, it stands a good chance of
creating more leads overall than pairing lead-gen with awareness would, because a lot of
people out there are introverts who find social interactions with aggressively friendly
strangers awkward and uncomfortable, even if they're strictly online (over 40%
customers would prefer not to deal with a sales rep at all).
And pairing lead-gen with consideration instead of awareness delays that first point of
contact, thus minimizing the amount of time that prospect will have to deal with sales
(an appealing prospect to introverts). And since introverts are going to be moving more
into leadership positions in remote/hybrid workplaces than they were in the past, adapting
your buyer's journey to them now puts you ahead of the game.
If you sell numerous products, probably the best consideration content to pair with lead-gen
contact fields are product comparisons, or product category comparisons, as prospects can
have a hard time determining the key differences between products by shuffling about between
different product pages. Nothing beats side-by-side.
Some websites offer this feature, of course, and it's a good one to have, but a customized
piece of content for a certain industry or customer category (SMBs, enterprises, etc.) can
add some vital context that a simple spec comparison couldn't do on its own.
If your product range is narrower, then you need to focus more on comparisons versus
competitors, or versus doing nothing. You'll also need testimonial-heavy case studies, which
are good to have in any case (as fellow customers can often explain better why they should
choose you better than you can).
Be Where Your Prospects Are
Another way to generate more and better leads is to devote more efforts to promoting your
content beyond your owned channels. This might mean focusing more on forums like Reddit. Or
it might mean focusing more on trade publications (some of which will let you publish your
content on their site). Or it might involve stepping up your dark social efforts (i.e.,
Of course, there are two catches here. One, such efforts involve things that go beyond the
usual purview of content marketing, therefore you'll probably need help from media relations
or your sales team. And two, these efforts are often tied to the personal relationships of
whoever is actually carrying the water for you. And if that person leaves your company,
you may be back to zero. But still, this is a good area to explore if you feel that you're
seeing diminishing returns using more orthodox methods.
Educate Your Content Writers
Good quality leads aren't just a matter of educating prospects, your content writers also
need to be educated about your prospects. Who they are. How technical they are. What they
ask. And what they need to know. Because if content writers don't know who they're talking
to, the content they produce tends to be vague and written for no one in particular, and
vague content produces either vague leads or no leads.
There are two good ways to educate content writers about prospects. One, arrange for direct
dialog with sales. And two, start recording your sales conferences and let your content
people watch the recordings (or read transcripts). This might not be perfect, but it's
better than leaving it to guesswork.
And One More Thing
If you can successfully improve the quality of your leads, you won't need to worry so much
about just getting more leads, which is good, because chasing leads all the time is bad. You
want your content marketing funnel to look like a funnel, narrower at the bottom (less
lead-gen content) and wider at the top (more awareness and consideration).
But if you ask for contact details at every interaction, every piece becomes lead-gen, which
means you don't have a marketing funnel anymore, you actually
have a marketing straw, which
makes your brand seem used-car-salesy, thus undermining the brandbuilding work that good
content can do.
So, that's it for the lead-gen stage of the content marketing funnel. If you want to learn
more about awareness
, follow the links.