The marketing qualified lead (MQL), as B2B marketers know it, is dead. Okay not totally dead, but let me explain…
If you’ve ever been a B2B buyer, you know what it is like to try to access a white paper that’s hidden behind a gate. The experience might look something like this: You fill out a form, get sent to your email, click a CTA in your email, get sent to a landing page, then have to click to download. At which point you’ve likely lost all interest in reading the white paper at all!
On the flip side, as marketers, we rely on these forms for lead generation. Yet we also know that people who MQL because they filled out forms are often false positives. They may not have even opened the thing. And even if they did, they may not have spent meaningful time engaging with it. So, while MQLs aren’t technically dead, how we typically qualify them certainly is.
If gates are causing frustration on the buyer’s side and false positives on the marketer’s side, maybe it’s time to rethink our marketing forms strategy. Perhaps it’s time to move from a “gate everything of value” mindset to a “let them consume content!” one? A strategy that treats our buyers the way they get treated in their Netflix-binging, Amazon-buying, YouTube-watching consumer lives. Let’s allow our visitors to educate themselves to their heart’s content—barrier-free.
B-B-BUT WHAT ABOUT MY MQL TARGETS??!! (I can pretty much hear you screaming through your screen.)
What’s in an MQL?
I get it. The marketing qualified lead (MQL) is what you, as a marketer, can control. Your forms allow you to turn unknown visitors to known and qualify them as leads, your budget is used to drive traffic, your website is where conversion happens, and you can, therefore, make (hopefully) reliable forecasts for contribution to pipeline.
Getting that MQL is part of the equation, perhaps the most important part since that’s what we’re often measured on. And that makes getting that form fill a priority. But sometimes, from the perspective of your B2B website visitors, it seems like the ONLY priority.
Quite often, any content of high value tends to be hiding behind forms. And just as often, there are multiple clicks required to complete the form and actually access the content. That’s not fun and only adds friction to the buyer’s journey and slows them down.
Especially when, in every other online experience in your buyers’ lives, getting what they want online is not only easy and frictionless, but the deciding is basically done for them via highly relevant, personalized recommendations by companies like Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube.
Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube aren’t nailing these recommendations by chance. They get it right because they make them based on visitor behavior. They track how long people spend with specific content, and what patterns they detect over time. They use deep engagement data to serve seamless, on-demand experiences. And these experiences inspire even more engagement. So before you know it, you’ve spent 3 hours watching guitar tutorial videos (not that I’m speaking from experience *cough*.) Engagement is what’s at the heart of the new-age MQL.
Thinking differently about engagement
B2B marketers are sacrificing engagement for form fills. If we value engagement as an important aspect of truly qualified lead, we need to start being more judicious in how we gate content. In a world where B2C brands make content ever so accessible, consumers are literally drowning in relevant content and free to binge-consume. It’s time for B2B to follow suit.
B2B buying is filled with forms around every corner. Barriers like these cause friction for the buyer and yield the opposite result of what we want. They effectively discourage engagement and self-education. A form can often feel like a brand saying “no” when someone asks “can I learn more?”
Maybe it’s because B2B marketers have been thinking about forms all wrong. Forms shouldn’t be about what your buyers can give to the marketer, but rather what value the marketer can offer the buyer. After all, making valuable content more accessible to buyers ultimately fills your pipeline with a more qualified class of lead.
Maybe forms should be the catalyst and not the barrier? Meaning, they should be more helpful than hindering when it comes to creating relevant seamless buyer journeys. Perhaps marketers let buyers educate themselves all they want. Crazy thought, right?
Now, I know a form-free existence is not super realistic for everyone. The answer to the question “to form or not to form?” isn’t black and white. There are a lot of alternative options to consider like implementing engagement-based forms or making forms dismissable.
Sure, your MQL number may go down, but your SQL number will go up. At the end of the day, that is what everyone is after, right? An MQL that is actually… qualified.
So, now that I’ve piqued your interest. Care to get a little experimental with your forms strategy?
How to get freaky with your form strategy
So, how do you continue generating leads on your website with fewer forms? Here are some important next steps that will help you re-think your marketing forms strategy and breathe new life into your MQLs.
First, get buy-in from leadership. It’s important they understand that:
- The goal is to increase the reach of your brand’s thought leadership by making your content as accessible as possible. The more buyer education the better!
- Ungating helps SEO. Fewer gates means more visibility for your content, to both search engines and buyers.
- Removing gates means improving content ROI. Producing content is expensive! Get more bang for your buck by using it to qualify more buyers.
Test, test test. Here, you can consider:
- Testing multiple form strategies to understand where, and how, to provide conversion points at the best possible times across various channels.
- Test engagement-based forms that pop after a certain period of time has been spent on a piece of content. (For example, send half your traffic to the usual gated content and half to a piece of content that serves an engagement-based form after a visitor has consumed many pieces or reached a threshold of time spent.)
- Try Making forms dismissable. A softer approach to a gate makes it seem more like a suggestion rather than an order.
- Designing a test where half your traffic is served no form at all.
Try the unthinkable. Consider removing all forms (*gasp*). A no-forms approach can come in different shapes and sizes:
- Provide personalized, quality, tailored content and let the buyer consume and access all they need. Like an all-you-can-eat content buffet!
- Try testing out ungating with something small first like one single piece of high-value content. This is obviously a terrifying prospect to any marketer. Don’t be afraid to take baby steps.
- Try ungating everything for a certain product line or business unit for a quarter and see if you are generating multiple return visits before investing further in this strategy.
- Serve dismissible forms for these visitors and compare the quality of leads and percentage that converts to SQL quarter over quarter and year over year.
I know some of these concepts might seem pretty radical. I get that. I really do. But we’ve proven these out to be true, not only in our own marketing strategies, but our customers have seen incredible results as well.
When we rebranded from LookBookHQ to PathFactory, we got rid of the resource center on our website. We felt it was better to provide relevant content recommendations across the website based on a visitor’s behavior. In doing so we let our customers binge to their heart’s content while collect content consumption data. Then we pass that data to sales so they better understand the level of interest that person has and the topics they are most interested in.
Before the rebrand, visitors who landed on the resource centre spent an average 0:59s with our content in a single visit. Now, we see visitors spending an average of 1 min and 30 seconds with website content per session. That’s more than a 50% lift in engagement! It wasn’t an easy change to make, but it’s been worth it and we aren’t looking back.
It’s time to meet the rising expectations set by our B2B buyers. We can do that by serving them the best, most up-to-date, compelling, and personalized content and let them decide how much to consume and when. I mean, we have to—it’s what they expect from us. And sometimes that might mean making it more accessible by removing the gates in front of it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch guitar demos on YouTube for the next four hours.