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Rethinking Content Marketing: A CRO's Point of View

Over the last decade, my teams at casavi, Trusted Shops, and Reputami generated more than 30,000 inbound B2B leads across Europe with gated content1, and today I am observing the teams of my clients at Voyage8 doing the same approach. When we first started to implement lead generation strategies in 2016, it was easy to generate staggering results. I believe those times are over.

In their quest to hit their MQL targets, marketing teams constantly experiment with captivating headlines and compelling visuals to encourage form submissions. Unfortunately, over the years, this has led to an influx of low-quality content—lacking depth and real value for the targeted ICPs. A little-discussed truth is that the conversion of leads from gated content is often no better than that of well-selected leads coming from cold prospecting.

After analyzing the results for such a long time, I strongly believe that B2B software marketers need a shift in their mindsets from ‘how much am I willing to pay for a form fill?’ to ‘how much would I pay for someone in my ICP to actually read and engage with my content?’ The hardest part of this transition starts when we stop counting the MQLs generated week over week and wait for the inbound demand, measured by the amount of inbound pipeline created, eventually to increase.

Debunking Myths Around Gated Content

From my perspective, there's a significant disconnect between the perceived and actual impacts of gated content on both pipeline and revenue. Consider the typical lead generation results I often get presented by the marketing team: blended average funnel conversion rates that result in a lead-to-deal conversion of 1-2%. This is not bad but also not great.

Funnel Averages Blended
Lead to Sales Qualified Opportunity 6%
SQO to customer conversion 21%
Lead to customer conversion 1,26%

However, by blending the results actually produced from gated content into overall inbound results, we are lying to ourselves in terms of the effectiveness of gated content. If you are not getting a 5% or higher conversion rate out of the MQLs generated with gated content, you should stop focusing on MQLs. The reality is, when we split the funnel into those with high intent (i.e., hand raisers) and those with low intent (gated content downloads), there is a significant difference. Typically, we see numbers like these:

Funnel Averages Blended High intend Low intend
Lead to Sales Qualified Opportunity 6% 20% 1%
SQO to customer conversion 21% 25% 15%
Lead to customer conversion 1,26% 5,04% 0,15%

The reality we are facing is that by the time high-intent prospects visit your website, they have already undergone a lengthy process of educating themselves on how to solve their problem. They have likely been talking to peers, listening to podcasts, and evaluating other solutions. Despite the fact that it is almost impossible to attribute high intent leads correctly, their intent is already well-formed, which explains why they have over 30 times higher conversion rates.

When talking to BDRs/SDRs and sales teams, they have also a clear picture of gated content MQLs compared to real inbounds (i.e., hand raisers). Actually, I had instances in which the content MQLs were treated with lower priority than cold prospects with a good match to the ICP. The simple truth is that prospects buy for their reasons and on their timeline, not yours.

So what is the way out of this MQL dilemma?

As stated above, you need to capture existing demand while continuously generating new demand within your ICP pool. The first step is to stop worrying about MQLs and focus the entire team on generating an inbound pipeline (SQO). Accountability for revenue contribution is still not the norm for marketing teams.

Despite the abundance of marketing technology available for direct measurement, you will likely find yourself returning to analyzing correlations. Increasing spend in a channel and measuring indirect KPIs might be a novel approach for teams accustomed to traditional performance marketing playbooks.

Nevertheless, by following these three steps, we believe your chances will increase to serve your prospects better and generate a significant increase in real inbound demand.

  1. Shift towards an ungated content strategy to produce engagement: Rather than creating gated content that falls short in quality and depth, produce your best possible ungated content.
  2. Distribute the ungated content using the techniques and channels that have proven effective in the past. Paid channels, as well as other channels, serve the purpose of delivering the content to the right ICPs. However, the distribution should focus on ensuring the content is shared rather than downloaded. We must assume that a significant part of the interaction with the content will occur in dark social channels.
  3. Eliminate MQL targets and move to engagement metrics: Change the performance KPIs from pure downloads of gated content to whether the audience is reading and engaging with the content.


After years of endorsing gated content and traditional inbound marketing approaches, it's clear we need a shift. Our journey towards more effective inbound demand generation continues and it is really reaffirming to see that I am not alone with this. .

I was highly inspired by this insightful article by Alice de Courcy, which I highly recommend. Beyond more details regarding this topic you can find a blueprint on how to implement this strategy in your organization.

[1]: The concept of inbound marketing, pioneered largely by HubSpot since 2004, revolves around offering gated content. This content is available exclusively in exchange for information submitted via a lead form and is aggressively promoted across various channels to ideal customer profiles (ICPs). Once a lead is captured, automated sequences, often with Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) in the mix, nudge the lead towards becoming a 'Marketing Qualified Lead' (MQL). It's widely believed that these inbound leads are superior, boasting higher conversion rates, shorter sales cycles, and potentially larger deals compared to traditional cold calling.