To register or not to register?
I came across an interesting post yesterday over at Marcom Inc, called, “How Registration Forms are Killing B2B Software Marketing”.
The author cited a statistic from an interview with Jay Halberg, VP Marketing for network monitoring software provider, Spiceworks, on the Savvy B2B Marketing blog. According to the post, 75% of visitors to the Spiceworks site would rather leave without downloading some content, than complete the registration form to get it.
The remainder of the Marcom post went on to describe, in gory detail delving into several case histories, how more content was downloaded when the site gave it away without requiring any form of registration. The post implied that the company would sell more software as a result. But this piece of logic rests, in my humble opinion, on a fatally flawed assumption. We’ll return to this in a moment, however, as the post did raise an interesting question regardless of it’s faulty logic: If you are using Registration forms yourself, as we are, just what is your drop-off rate?
I set off to find our numbers. We use a Demand Generator tool called Pardot Prospect Insight (PI). It produces a Landing Page Report which made the whole exercise of finding our stats really easy.
Our best and worst dropoff rates are 51.2% for our most used Landing Page/Registration Form, and a slightly higher 58.24% for the least frequently used page/form. So our site performs much better than the surveyed site. Makes sense to me – the success of any marketing offer depends on whom it’s pitched at and what the offer’s perceived value is to the recipient of the pitch.
Yet in Marcom’s view, the 75% dropoff makes a convincing case for not using Registration Forms and in fact, they insist, suggests that one should remove the gates in front of content completely. And I think this is their first mistake: A 25% conversion rate, while there’s no doubt it can be improved upon, is not bad at all and makes a strong case for using Inbound Marketing Automation’s Registration forms.
It may be that what adds fuel to the fire for me, is that I believe the author’s second mistake, the aforementioned erroneous assumption, leads him to throw the baby out with the bathwater here and stop using a good tool because he thinks he can do better without it.
So just what is his false assumption? He states that freeing up content leads to more sales. Now in fairness, he didn’t actually say more sales, he merely promised that if you freed up your content, more people would download it, and then in the case studies he spoke of how this was a brilliant thing, good for business…
But was it? Did they in fact sell more software? That’s what they should have researched: how many of these folks, who were unsure enough of their interest to avoid leaving their name and email address in the first place, ever came back to get a second piece of totally free content, or to actually buy anything?
His false assumption can best be illustrated with 2 well-known examples. The music industry laments the loss of royalties it suffers when people illegally download music. They put the dollar value of this loss at the product of the number of stolen tunes times their retail price. The software business does a similar thing with pirated software and ends up crying about the billions in lost licence fees. In both cases, the companies have assumed that if you prevent a thief from stealing something, he goes out and buys it instead. Now I don’t know if they’re all silly enough to actually believe these statements, but they talk about it in official terms and on official forums, they form Societies to Police the problem and write rafts of Press Releases to publicize it, and then people like Marcom write posts about how we should make our content free because it will sell more of our stuff. I’m not saying for sure that it won’t – but I’d like proof that it will; because giving up the Registration process means giving up on the idea of the quality of a lead.
Surely one of the best measures of sincerity leading to a sale, is a prospect’s willingness to give you his or her name? Our Inbound Marketing dashboard reveals quite a few visitors who leave without registering, come back several times and leave again, all without identifying themselves. But in the end, some of these anonymous visitors do surrender their name and email address, in return for that piece of information they have checked out three times and obviously can’t find anywhere else.
It may be that the situation is different for B2C companies, but a B2B company relies on forming relationships with its clients. When you walked into a Trade Show booth, for example, (when you used to attend shows), you exchanged business cards with the vendor’s rep, right? Sure, in a few cases you may not have given away your card, but usually only because at that moment you felt that you were just curious, or perhaps you were simply checking out the competition. In other words, if you felt you would not be wasting the vendor’s time, you handed him or her your card. I think serious people don’t mind identifying themselves, whereas people who have not made up their minds don’t like to have their indecision recorded for posterity.
Now I’m not for one moment suggesting that you should not make some of your content available without registration. The trick is a judicious blend of both un-gated, free content, and content for which you have to register. And, for that content for which you do have to register, you should do everything you can to minimize your dropoff rates. I’ll end this post with 4 ways to do that:
- Promote the content in a way which leads people to see its value at the time they will have to sign up. Looking at our stats, I realised that the papers which I plugged in posts and in comments on other posts had the highest conversion rates compared to the papers which simply “sat” on our site. So do make sure people understand what it is they will gain in return for identifying themselves.
- Place an “unsubscribe” link on the bottom of every email sent to anyone. Make sure that anyone editing emails which go to clients or prospects cannot remove this link. Ideally the unsubscribe process should require a single click to arrive at your unsubscribe landing page and then an easy and quick way for people to remove themselves from your list.
- We almost never call people who visit our site and register to begin downloading our content, until they ask us to call or until they reach a Grade and Score (as “marked” automatically by our Demand Generation Nurturing programs), which indicates that they are now ready to buy.
I did say almost never in (4) as we have twice called someone who appeared to be racking up a great score and then suddenly opted out by unsubscribing. We called these two people to ask what had changed their minds. In both cases, we were polite and said that we understood we were intruding but just wanted to ask them about their experience in using our site. We suggested that if this was not a good time we would wish them well and say goodbye. And in both cases, the person not only took the call, but provided us with some valuable feedback.
Bit-by-Bit #20 from Eric.