How to Lose the Lead Gate and Turn Your PDFs into Qualification Engines

July 25, 2019 | Kirsten Lyons

The holy grail, the tried and true, the O.G.—B2B marketers have long relied on the gated PDF as a critical part of content marketing and demand generation.

And why wouldn’t you? A downloaded PDF used to be an indication that a prospect is deep enough into the buying process to be quickly nurtured and sent to sales in an inbound marketing model.

But buyers have changed, and today, they’re even more sales avoidant than their predecessors—91% of millennial buyers prefer not to talk to sales teams until the middle or end of their buying journey.


But no matter how detailed or verticalized your PDF content is, it doesn’t belong in the bottom of your funnel where buyers are evaluating specific solutions, and are ready to receive a call from your sales team.

Marketers need to reimagine how they use PDF content for it to be useful for today’s buyers. That means abandoning the tired model of calling an email address we got from a PDF download a sales-ready lead.

However, that doesn’t mean PDF content isn’t useful to your buyers—PDFs are still a powerful tool within the sales and marketing funnel. Marketers today just need to take their PDFs from average lead gated content with limited utility, to content that fosters engagement and offers real qualification information that can help understand modern buyers.


Here’s how you can transform your PDFs into lead qualification engines…

A Download (or Even An Open) ≠ Resonance

Before we reimagine PDFs and remove lead gates from the process, it’s important to understand the faulty assumption that makes marketers hang on to their lead gates: We assume that if someone is willing to share an email address for a piece of content, they are actually going to engage with it (which supports our nurture efforts in warming up leads for sales).

But the explosion of content today means that buyers have come to expect nearly constant access to high quality content. But even if they’re compelled by a great title, how likely are they to actually take the time to read it in full?

Just because your prospects have offered up an email address and downloaded a PDF does not mean they’re actually engaging with it. But by dropping the lead gate we can open additional opportunities for meaningful engagement with prospects.

Swap Downloads for Real Engagement

As marketers, we want our prospects to consume our content to nurture them, and get them to a place where they’re ready to speak with sales. But lead gates are actually counterproductive to how psychologists and social scientists explain how we make decisions, and about whether or not we’ll procrastinate and ultimately just delete the PDF all together.

Social scientists say that the best way to not procrastinate is to break tasks down to reduce our procrastination tendencies. And when information in a PDF is a nice-to-have, not a must-read in all of our busy lives, forcing ourselves to take the first step and actually find time to consume the content is a hard sell.

But taking away the lead gate and essentially spoon feeding your prospects encourages the likelihood they will actually consume your content, because we’ve removed the first barrier (a critical step in ending procrastination).

Instead of walling your PDF content off behind a lead gate, move the goal post: Leave your PDFs ungated and accessible so that prospects can freely engage with the content, but garner deeper engagement (and more useful information) by layering in qualifying questions, followed by a form in the middle of your content.

In this model, your prospects can start consuming your content, get hooked, and engage with questions that result in meaningful qualifying information before they are asked to share their valuable email address with you.

By using a form later in your PDF, rather than up front, your prospects can explore the value of your content without being deterred by having to share their email address before they know if it’s useful. Questions transform the lead-gated PDF into a win-win where marketers get powerful qualification information, and prospects get a better user experience.

Reimagine Lead Qualification

The lead gated PDF or whitepaper may work for marketers who are still simply chasing arbitrary MQL targets that don’t convert to deals, but they are the only ones this approach is working for. By removing the lead gate, marketers can increase the likelihood that their prospects will actually read their content, and create additional opportunities for deeper qualification than just an email address. In focusing on qualification, savvy marketers can spotlight the best leads to send to sales, instead of just assuming an email address means your prospects are actually engaged in a buying process, not just intrigued by your fancy title.

Learn more about using questions to transform your PDF content here.

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