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October 25, 2011


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I have to agree that the second option to have people that read the whitepaper with no registration and capturing the email of those interested in learning more after reading the whitepaper can also be very healthy when filtering quality leads.

I have to say something as simple as a second registration to make sure the person is really interested instead of forcing them to subscribe to read the whitepaper is healthier.


Ah, the age old PR/Marketing argument returns... "Don't tell me who I might reach, tell me exactly who I have reached, so I can follow them up and sell them something... even if that means losing a ton of 'untrackable' sales."

As an ex-scientist turned PR person, this is a circular argument that perpetually threatens to turn my brain to mush.

My scientific soul yearns for as much data and analysis as possible, so that I can track my campaigns with the utmost precision. However, in doing that I would cut myself off from all the people who might have bought something, but didn't want to fill in my form or tell me who they are.

So far, the PR company I work for has often taken the opposite approach to what you suggest. Firstly, and for only a certain period of time, you have to register to download the whitepaper. If you really want the info and you want it now, you'll register, and we have a fairly high quality lead.

After interest dies down, we can then repurpose the material for publication in trade magazines, on a company’s website, distribution via Twitter etc. So far this has worked pretty well.

Perhaps the main advice should be not to limit your company to one approach. I completely agree with you David that a mix of free and ‘not so free’ material is required. However, which order you do things in might be impacted by how much content you have, where the real value is, and just how badly do people want to find out about it?

David Meerman Scott

Thank you Raul.

Paul - what a thoughtful comment. Thanks. You know the approach you are taking has a huge limitation - when you use other sites (such as the media) to publish the free version, you are giving the SEO benefit to that other place.

If, however, you have a free paper with a killer title that is an important phrase for your business (try Goggling "Online Media Room" as an example), the inbound links and Google juice all point to you.

Ted Page


The hybrid approach is intriguing and I will definitely give it a shot. The content-rich microsites my agency has created, such as www.smartgridsherpa.com for KEMA, have not required registration of any kind. The sales increases are harder to track back to a "lead" in the traditional sense, but a sales increase is a good thing by any measure. If I were to ask most marketing managers, "Do you want to increase your lead gen in a measurable way that you can show your boss?," or "Do you just want to increase your sales regardless of leads tracked?", most would answer yes to the latter.



Let's take our opinions off the table. :)

This is what 1.7 Million IT buyers told me:



it''s this whole concept of a lead that is still; a major problem. ( Especially when it comes to IT technology buyers)

They may be on a forum and a vendor discusses a product, problem issue the IT pro is having. He/she then goes to the IT vendors' website checks out the product. ( does NOT want to download a whitepaper becuase the IT vendor FORCES him/her to register contact info) Oh god NOT another download a free sales call paper.

The IT pro goes back to the community todiscuss this with the Vendor in a community. He get's help and then goes and makes a purchase from the vendor directly or though a reseller.

SO THIS GUY WAS never a lead CORRECT? Vendors need to get out of this # of leads ( whitepaper downloads etc) and start engaging the IT buyer on their terms and their turf.

Ironically it's a lot cheaper.

However ,this is still the prevailing attitude " Kenny I do not have time to talk about sales, I have a lead gen number to hit".

Actual VP of Marketing quote.

who can blame him. He gets a $$$$$$ bonus at the end of the quarter for hitting some meaningless metric like number of whitepaper leads ( names and e mails address for the sales people to go after)

vendors claim to demand ROI etc and i can't think of a bigger waste of money.

What a waste

David Meerman Scott

Thanks Ted -- while most people would agree with the later of your statements, unfortunately many marketers are measured with the former.

Kenny -- Very well said. This is just the stuff that goes on out there especially in B2B IT. Thanks!

pankaj saraf

Nice Post. Thanks for sharing information.

Kaila S | Vertical Measures

What a great concept. I hadn't really thought about doing the hybrid way but it totally makes sense. You get the benefit of social links, additional visitors, not to mention the fact that you don't piss people off by requiring them to sign up/opt in to e-mails.

Jeff Bode

Hey David great idea, I'm going to have to try this... One additional thing I would recommend is to keep the report/white paper under 15 pages since most people won't be willing to spend a long time reading a free report.

Mitsu Fisher

Thank you for this great idea, from someone who makes white paper follow up calls every day. IT professionals really don't like that whole registration and then get spammed by a sales guy thing and who can blame them. Your idea is totally win win. The prospect does not give up any details until they are pretty sure they want to talk to you. From my standpoint I don't have to waste a ton of time calling people who really don't want to hear from me. No brainer!


David, a very good point! I may well mention your Google Juice argument at my next client meet!


Thanks for reviving this conversation, David.

When the "lead" is scared to fill out a form for fear of receiving instant, irrelevant follow-up by a sales person, the problem is not the form but the follow-up.

I agree that you need to think about the perceived value you're providing in your content offer, and ask only for a fair amount of information in exchange (hint: a product brochure offers very little, if any, perceived value). In some cases, what you ask in return can and should be nothing. In other cases, a form may not do the content justice. We've created super-valuable competitive analysis matrices and project planning aids that are only available through a conversation with a sales rep.

But let's not ignore the other half of the problem: lack of proper qualification and follow-up. If you're calling/emailing every single person that downloads a single piece of content from you, assuming they're all ready to buy, you're not doing it right.

In fact, assume the opposite is true. Assume that NONE of them want to buy from you (after all, a good white paper is educational in nature, and needing to be educated is not a buy signal).

Instead, use your newly-granted permission to engage them in a way that will help them with their buying decision, and will help you learn more about them in a non-intrusive way. That's really what the "hybrid" approach is...dangling carrots for other relevant, useful content that is a more accurate indicator of buyer readiness.

The real problem isn't too many forms. It's lazy marketing that fails to respect the buyer. Think through the entire buying process, and build your content, programs, and website to make the buyer's journey less painful.

You'll be delighted by the results.

Here's some related free advice (no form) on our blog for thoughtful marketers who have a marketing automation tool in place, and would like to do more nurturing but are getting stuck on the clunkiness of forms, email blasts, and automated drip campaigns:

Nolin @ BrainRider

David Meerman Scott

Nolin, A very good point on the lack of effective follow-up. Thanks for jumping in. I'd also note that slow follow-up (ir even no follow-up) are also problems many companies face.



Agreed, David. Not thinking through qualification and appropriate follow-up strategy results in all sorts of disconnects.

What's perhaps most disappointing to me is how many of the marketing automation and sales CRM vendors are themselves guilty of this. On more than one occasion, I've been called by a sales rep ready to take my credit card before I'm even finished setting up my free demo. And don't get me started on the 7-emails-in-7-days "drip" campaigns I get from them.

David Meerman Scott

Nolin - you have identified one of my pet peeves. Companies in the marketing automation and CRM space are huge believers in gating content and implementing squeeze pages which is weird to me...


David - I couldn't read this fast enough. I've actually had arguments about brochures and product sheets behind a registration gate - the be clear, my argument was these should always be freely available!

Understanding the buyer, your market and how good your content is, helps direct the lead gen strategy - using data and marketing nous. Often there's a tug of war between thought-leader objectives (wide distribution, brand recognition as knowledgable) and sales-leads objectives (collect contact details for sales funnel). Often the B2B sales-leads approach pushes too hard, too fast and puts people off before they've even got started (ala Nolin).

But there is a space where by treating contact details with respect (ie not handing every download straight to sales), providing great content (no sales pitches), ensuring everything you send is relevant (and if you don't know enough about them then you're just guessing) and leveraging technology (web tracking is a whole lot more interesting once connected to a person) - kind of like creating a community around your business expertise.

Thanks for the article - always an interesting discussion!

Mark Alan Effinger

What a kick-butt discussion. And David - what's with the production on the David vs Mike video? Looks a little polished for two marketers going at it with fisticuffs.

Here are some high points as I see them.

1) I have opted into Hubspot maybe 20+ times in order to access a whitepaper. Many of us infonerds end up using garbage emails we have routed directly to spam folders. I don't - but my peers do.

How about an option? A trust-based option: "Already on our mailing list? No problem - click here and get a free gate pass".

2) I'm firmly in agreement with your Free model (and the associated reasoning). Take your original PPT=eBook free download. That provided a nice launchpad for your first book.

Seth Godin continues to receive exceptional uptake with The Idea Virus (still free AND pay).
http://www.sethgodin.com/ideavirus/ (no email required). The free download gets 59,000 mentions on Google.

Hugh MacLeod is another great example: His Blog-to-Book approach builds a significant audience. By the time he puts his collected posts in print, he's looking at a bestseller ranking from his loyal crowd. No email necessary. But often gladly volunteered.

3) Lastly: The SEO benefits. An optimized PDF can often outrank a good web page. Embedded links, embedded video, deep descriptive META and other characteristics of the modern PDF make them an incredible magnet for Googlebot and Yahoo Slurp. If you can make it easy, even inviting, for people to post your PDF/eBook on their site, it's nothing but love from the search engines.

Q: Have you explored Twitter and Facebook gating (eg click Like to Pass)? Wondering how the simplicity effects engagement. I pause whenever I have to click "Like" as I'm not into spamming my social network.

Thanks for the math, David. I'd like to craft a whitepaper on that alone.
Mark Alan Effinger

P.S. Evidently I'm not done: Great content is a magnet. Great content, authentic content, begets fans. Give me a raving fan over a lead any day. The distribution of your message through an enthusiastic voice is worth... unobtanium. A valuable whitepaper that encourages sharing generates guaranteed inbound activity.

Inbound... where have I heard that mantra before?...;-)

Mark Alan Effinger

David - what if there was a new metric to apply here?

What if mentions - the number of snippets that appear on Google, Yahoo and Bing - basically the "Total Message Distribution" became the new metric?

If you know your placements were:
1) On your site
2) On your FB fan page
3) On YouTube
4) On Slideshare
5) etc...

Then you have a starting marker.
Then watch the numbers rise over time. Measure the increase in SERPs.
Then measure the QUALITY of inbound leads.

A rejigging of the system is not a bad thing.

David Meerman Scott

Hey Mark,

Yes, it is a kick-ass discussion. I love it because I'm learning a lot.

I totally love your "free gate pass" idea!

My ebook "The New Rules of Viral Marketing" has been downloaded well one one million times. If you google the phrase "viral marketing" you will find it. Since I have personally had such great success, I am a huge proponent of free!

Yes, I've always advocated new ways to measure. The "number of leads" measure is a holdover form the print direct mail days and makes no sense in today's world.

Jim Logan

Far from scientific, I've split test both approaches of lead generation -- offering a white paper for download without any currency whatsoever and offering the same white paper after registration. The results I measured were number of new customers earned from each approach. The freely downloaded white paper won that contest by a wide margin.

What I did with the white paper was write it, promote it and include a closing call to action in such a way the download and follow-on contact the reader initiated was self-qualifying.

I like your hybrid approach far better than registered downloads, but believe you can structure the freely downloaded offer to be a winner every time.

David Meerman Scott

Jim - many thanks for sharing this data. I've had the same success as you describe.

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