How B2B Marketers Ruined Gated Content (and why we don’t focus on driving MQLs at Chili Piper)

Tara Robertson
August 31, 2022
min to read

How B2B Marketers Ruined Gated Content (and why we don’t focus on driving MQLs at Chili Piper)

Tara Robertson
August 31, 2022
min to read

I have a confession to make… 

I used to be one of those B2B marketers who thought the only way to show the value of the marketing team’s work was to gate content. 

It’s true. I used to force my previous content team to hide their work behind a gate — I’m cringing just thinking about it.

When your marketing team’s goal is to drive a high volume of leads (MQLs), they’ll find a way to do it. But is that really the best way to grow your business? Collecting lead data from people who are trying to read your content but who have no intention or interest in learning more about your product? 

Forcing them down your ‘funnel’ probably isn’t working anymore. The reality is, B2B marketers (including myself in this) ruined gated content. 

What’s the first thing that goes through your head when you see gated content?

For me, it's the stream of follow up emails I’m going to get from the company (and calls and texts…). 

Is it really worth it to read that ebook? The answer is often no. 

Here’s my experience when I come across gated content as a reader:

Half the time I’ll just close the tab and move on with my day. 

Other times I’ll go back to my original search and find the content or answer I was looking for elsewhere (ungated, and oftentimes a post written by a competitor of the first post I clicked on).

Gated vs ungated content

So why did I think it would be a good idea to gate our own content?

Let’s take a step back and think about the pros and cons of gating content:

Pros of gating content:

  • You can see exactly who is reading your content — you’ll know if they’re the right ICP, from your target accounts, etc. And you can share this data with your leadership team
  • You’ll collect lots more leads

Cons of gating content:

  • You will turn off a large percentage of your audience — potentially losing them for good
  • You’re hiding your best content behind lock and key

Seems a bit silly, right? To hide your best content and lead with your other stuff? 

You might be thinking but what about lead nurturing? I can try to push these gated content leads into MQLs via my email nurture programs.

If someone is not in buying mode, getting a few of your generic nurture emails isn’t going to automatically flip that switch and change their minds. This has never happened to me as a buyer, that’s for sure.

It’s much more likely that they’re learning about your product while they’re grabbing a beer with their peers, or reading about you in their Slack communities. 

If you want to win over today’s buyers, you have to find a way to be in those spaces with them as a peer or even as a thought leader. And that’s where ungated content is really coming ahead on channels like paid social. 

It allows you to get your content in front of way more people than gating it and hiding it behind a form.

There are exceptions to this of course, like tools and calculators, and templates. And sometimes you really do need someone’s email to get them what they’ve requested, like a personal link to access a webinar, reminders for an event, or your newsletter.

If you’re a marketing team that gates content today to hit your MQL targets, you’re probably wondering what the alternative is. 

Is gated content dead? 

It’s trendy to say that things are “dead”. I see it all over LinkedIn, but the reality is no one knows your business and your go-to-market like you do. If you’re gating content and that’s working for you to drive pipeline, you do you. But if you’re looking to make a change and move beyond the MQL keep reading. 

The problem is that a lot of B2B marketing teams went all in on this one metric (MQLs) and said, “we’re just going to bring in thousands of what we consider good qualified leads, call them MQLs and then pass those over to sales to figure out the rest.” 

Unfortunately, a lot of marketing teams were only concerned with hitting their MQL quota, then moving on to the next month and trying to hit that new MQL quota, and so on.

While it most definitely has its flaws, saying that certain tactics or metrics are completely obsolete and you shouldn’t bother tracking them is pretty short sighted. Now, if you’re gating a lot of your content and your marketing team’s focus is solely on driving leads that way, you may want to evaluate better alternatives that align with how buyers actually want to engage with you. 

How to ungate your content and stop focusing on MQLs

Ungating your content can feel scary. You’re losing a lot of your tracking ability and moving into uncharted territory.

So I’m going to give you the same advice I gave Joe (the inspiration behind this post).👇

Here are three steps to ungating your content so you can stop focusing on MQLs for good:

1. Find new metrics to measure 

If your company is focused on the pros of gated content — namely, having visibility into who is consuming your content — it’s time to think outside of the box.

A lot of marketing teams spend tons of time optimizing their lead scoring and intent-based MQL criteria. What if your team spent time on metrics that actually move the needle?

There are metrics you can start measuring instead of the number of leads generated. Like:

  • First and last touch: What content or pages on your site  are your prospects visiting before they become an opportunity? What about during the opportunity stages?
  • Booking context: What happened immediately before your prospect booked a demo? Signed up for a free trial? Raised their hand some other way?

2. Focus on opportunity creation over MQLs

MQLs can definitely be a leading indicator that your marketing is reaching the right people, but I wouldn’t make it your team’s northstar. 

If your marketing team’s main KPI is driving thousands of MQLs every month, you should consider focusing on opportunity creation or another lower-funnel metric instead. The closer you can tie your team’s work to revenue, the better.

One of the easiest ways to show that marketing is generating quality leads is to look at conversion — how many of the leads that marketing is bringing in are turning into actual opportunities? 

At Chili Piper, we have a lifecycle stage called a QHM (Qualified Held Meetings = a demo call with an AE that was qualified). 

We look at this metric versus MQLs to determine if we’re hitting our targets as a marketing team. These meetings actually happened, and the reps qualified the leads, they aren’t just form fills. 

3. Get buy-in from your leadership team

This can be a tricky one. Especially when you’re suggesting doing away with your all-important metrics and moving in a totally new direction.

One thing that I’ve found helpful when getting buy-in from an exec team is focusing on existing metrics.

Pull a few reports from your CRM or marketing automation platform:

  • What percent of your gated content MQLs actually become Opportunities? Customers? (Hint: This number is probably lower than you’d expect)
  • Where are your best opportunities coming from today?
  • Where did your best opportunities and customers originally hear about you? (Hint: You can use a tool like Gong to get this feedback in their own words)

The future of marketing at Chili Piper

Rather than bringing in thousands of MQLs a month, at Chili Piper, our marketing team focuses on driving QHMs and inbound pipeline.

As a demand gen team, we also look at these top-of-funnel metrics:
- First Engagements (new companies visiting our website and from which channels – more details on how we track this coming in a future post)
- Subscriber growth

  • For our newsletter,The Sauce — almost 18k subscribers
  • And our podcast, Demand Gen Chat — over 30k streams total!

Are you trying to make the leap off the MQL hamster wheel? What questions do you have about making the change? Have other concerns come up from your VP or exec team that I can help you answer? Send me a message, I’d love to chat about this some more.

Subscribe to The Sauce for more content like this. No fluffy nurture programs, just our newsletter two times a month.

I have a confession to make… 

I used to be one of those B2B marketers who thought the only way to show the value of the marketing team’s work was to gate content. 

It’s true. I used to force my previous content team to hide their work behind a gate — I’m cringing just thinking about it.

When your marketing team’s goal is to drive a high volume of leads (MQLs), they’ll find a way to do it. But is that really the best way to grow your business? Collecting lead data from people who are trying to read your content but who have no intention or interest in learning more about your product? 

Forcing them down your ‘funnel’ probably isn’t working anymore. The reality is, B2B marketers (including myself in this) ruined gated content. 

What’s the first thing that goes through your head when you see gated content?

For me, it's the stream of follow up emails I’m going to get from the company (and calls and texts…). 

Is it really worth it to read that ebook? The answer is often no. 

Here’s my experience when I come across gated content as a reader:

Half the time I’ll just close the tab and move on with my day. 

Other times I’ll go back to my original search and find the content or answer I was looking for elsewhere (ungated, and oftentimes a post written by a competitor of the first post I clicked on).

Gated vs ungated content

So why did I think it would be a good idea to gate our own content?

Let’s take a step back and think about the pros and cons of gating content:

Pros of gating content:

  • You can see exactly who is reading your content — you’ll know if they’re the right ICP, from your target accounts, etc. And you can share this data with your leadership team
  • You’ll collect lots more leads

Cons of gating content:

  • You will turn off a large percentage of your audience — potentially losing them for good
  • You’re hiding your best content behind lock and key

Seems a bit silly, right? To hide your best content and lead with your other stuff? 

You might be thinking but what about lead nurturing? I can try to push these gated content leads into MQLs via my email nurture programs.

If someone is not in buying mode, getting a few of your generic nurture emails isn’t going to automatically flip that switch and change their minds. This has never happened to me as a buyer, that’s for sure.

It’s much more likely that they’re learning about your product while they’re grabbing a beer with their peers, or reading about you in their Slack communities. 

If you want to win over today’s buyers, you have to find a way to be in those spaces with them as a peer or even as a thought leader. And that’s where ungated content is really coming ahead on channels like paid social. 

It allows you to get your content in front of way more people than gating it and hiding it behind a form.

There are exceptions to this of course, like tools and calculators, and templates. And sometimes you really do need someone’s email to get them what they’ve requested, like a personal link to access a webinar, reminders for an event, or your newsletter.

If you’re a marketing team that gates content today to hit your MQL targets, you’re probably wondering what the alternative is. 

Is gated content dead? 

It’s trendy to say that things are “dead”. I see it all over LinkedIn, but the reality is no one knows your business and your go-to-market like you do. If you’re gating content and that’s working for you to drive pipeline, you do you. But if you’re looking to make a change and move beyond the MQL keep reading. 

The problem is that a lot of B2B marketing teams went all in on this one metric (MQLs) and said, “we’re just going to bring in thousands of what we consider good qualified leads, call them MQLs and then pass those over to sales to figure out the rest.” 

Unfortunately, a lot of marketing teams were only concerned with hitting their MQL quota, then moving on to the next month and trying to hit that new MQL quota, and so on.

While it most definitely has its flaws, saying that certain tactics or metrics are completely obsolete and you shouldn’t bother tracking them is pretty short sighted. Now, if you’re gating a lot of your content and your marketing team’s focus is solely on driving leads that way, you may want to evaluate better alternatives that align with how buyers actually want to engage with you. 

How to ungate your content and stop focusing on MQLs

Ungating your content can feel scary. You’re losing a lot of your tracking ability and moving into uncharted territory.

So I’m going to give you the same advice I gave Joe (the inspiration behind this post).👇

Here are three steps to ungating your content so you can stop focusing on MQLs for good:

1. Find new metrics to measure 

If your company is focused on the pros of gated content — namely, having visibility into who is consuming your content — it’s time to think outside of the box.

A lot of marketing teams spend tons of time optimizing their lead scoring and intent-based MQL criteria. What if your team spent time on metrics that actually move the needle?

There are metrics you can start measuring instead of the number of leads generated. Like:

  • First and last touch: What content or pages on your site  are your prospects visiting before they become an opportunity? What about during the opportunity stages?
  • Booking context: What happened immediately before your prospect booked a demo? Signed up for a free trial? Raised their hand some other way?

2. Focus on opportunity creation over MQLs

MQLs can definitely be a leading indicator that your marketing is reaching the right people, but I wouldn’t make it your team’s northstar. 

If your marketing team’s main KPI is driving thousands of MQLs every month, you should consider focusing on opportunity creation or another lower-funnel metric instead. The closer you can tie your team’s work to revenue, the better.

One of the easiest ways to show that marketing is generating quality leads is to look at conversion — how many of the leads that marketing is bringing in are turning into actual opportunities? 

At Chili Piper, we have a lifecycle stage called a QHM (Qualified Held Meetings = a demo call with an AE that was qualified). 

We look at this metric versus MQLs to determine if we’re hitting our targets as a marketing team. These meetings actually happened, and the reps qualified the leads, they aren’t just form fills. 

3. Get buy-in from your leadership team

This can be a tricky one. Especially when you’re suggesting doing away with your all-important metrics and moving in a totally new direction.

One thing that I’ve found helpful when getting buy-in from an exec team is focusing on existing metrics.

Pull a few reports from your CRM or marketing automation platform:

  • What percent of your gated content MQLs actually become Opportunities? Customers? (Hint: This number is probably lower than you’d expect)
  • Where are your best opportunities coming from today?
  • Where did your best opportunities and customers originally hear about you? (Hint: You can use a tool like Gong to get this feedback in their own words)

The future of marketing at Chili Piper

Rather than bringing in thousands of MQLs a month, at Chili Piper, our marketing team focuses on driving QHMs and inbound pipeline.

As a demand gen team, we also look at these top-of-funnel metrics:
- First Engagements (new companies visiting our website and from which channels – more details on how we track this coming in a future post)
- Subscriber growth

  • For our newsletter,The Sauce — almost 18k subscribers
  • And our podcast, Demand Gen Chat — over 30k streams total!

Are you trying to make the leap off the MQL hamster wheel? What questions do you have about making the change? Have other concerns come up from your VP or exec team that I can help you answer? Send me a message, I’d love to chat about this some more.

Subscribe to The Sauce for more content like this. No fluffy nurture programs, just our newsletter two times a month.

Tara Robertson

Tara Robertson is a B2B marketer with over 10 years experience in various marketing roles. As the Senior Manager of Demand Gen at Chili Piper, she also hosts our podcast Demand Gen Chat and writes our newsletter The Sauce. Tara is powered by pizza and negronis. Connect with Tara on LinkedIn!

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