2 August 2022 Inge de Jong

The B2B lead gen paradox- are you generating contacts or customers?

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About a year ago, I got a call from one of my favourite clients. The feeling was mutual, as their head of marketing had always been very pleased with our B2B lead gen campaigns. They got him lots of leads, clicks and engagement on social media. But this was not the head of marketing calling. Oh no. This was the director of sales, and he was not happy. 


“Whatever you’re doing, it’s not working for us,” he said, and then he started a 5-minute rant about how content marketing was stupid as all the leads were competitors, students or people he couldn’t find on LinkedIn. “Maybe we should just stop doing this,” he concluded, and then he hung up.


After the call had ended, I remember feeling offended. As an agency, we had worked so hard to generate all those leads for them, and if it didn’t work, then how come the head of marketing was so happy? There was only one explanation: the director of sales just didn’t get it. After all, he was in sales, and sales professionals don’t understand marketers. 


But then it hit me. The head of sales was right. Yes, we had generated leads, but we hadn’t generated any customers. Well, at least not directly. Our client had onboarded new customers regularly, yet none of them had been converted into one by being in one of our workflows. It was always a mix of factors. New clients had been inspired by a speech at an event, followed one of our client’s training courses, talked to existing customers or their partners, and read blogs and downloaded ebooks.


We’d been so focused on vanity metrics such as clicks and email open rates that we had lost sight of the actual assignment: attracting the right customers through thought leadership, reputation, trust, and actual value.


It’s the forms!

I must admit that it took some time to realise that it was not the quality of our content campaigns (we’re pretty good at those). Also, the head of marketing of the client mentioned above had told me many times that they received praise for their helpful articles, even from big ass companies such as Microsoft. To-be customers all read the content and were sent the ebook by sales, and they loved it. They just weren’t the leads that went through our workflows, which were filled with lead nurturing content and clever “Book a chat!” links. Actual customers followed a different route, as they were inspired by the sum of all marketing activities like events, blogs and social media, together with excellent reputation and word-of-mouth. The fact that we had gated the most relevant information only stood in the way of them getting to know our client. As the head of sales said, most of the leads that we did generate were students and untraceable people. 


It’s strange but true: the forms turned out to be the problem. It’s the biggest paradox of B2B lead gen that I’ve come across so far: forms help you generate leads, yet they stand in the way of something more substantial: engagement from the people you want to become your customer. While marketers celebrate vanity metrics such as the number of ebook downloads, they miss out on the real opportunities that could prove marketing ROI


After all, 100 leads that don’t turn into customers equals zero marketing ROI.

In contrast, a closed enterprise-level customer that read 20 blog posts and filled out the contact form means something.  

B2B lead gen as a bonus 

We decided to do things differently. We started small by ungating some pillar content for some of our clients to see if it would affect the actual visitor-to-customer rate.


And it did. Website traffic increased thanks to increased available, relevant content, and contacts used live forms more frequently. These were all bottom-of-funnel forms to request a demo, ask a question or schedule a chat. Visitors liked the content on the website; they used it to educate themselves and then reached out to our clients themselves.


We also experimented with a hybrid approach, where all content was available on a page and as a pdf behind a form. As it turned out, this worked too. Website traffic still went up, and if visitors were really motivated, they downloaded content rather than reading it from a page. This way, gating content makes a lot of sense. After all, if you want to learn more about a specific topic, sometimes a pdf works better than a long web page.


Set your content free

We realised that gateless content is key to increasing visitor-to-customer rates and that forms only work if you don’t use them to trick people into your CMS. Forms should be there to allow visitors to talk to you, either by asking a question or by learning more about your products and services. For all the rest: set your content free, use B2B lead gen for highly motivated website visitors and let your ideal customers come to you!