Should business-to-business (B2B) companies offer content for “free”? By “free,” I mean offering things such as e-books, white papers, and reports without requiring people (aka “buyers”) to register for the content?
This has been a hot topic under discussion at Bob Bly’s blog. In a July 22, 2008 post, Bly states,
I advise my readers to require the user to submit his e-mail address . . . and opt into my e-list . . . in exchange for getting my free viral e-books like my latest on selling to the “GOM” market — men age 50 and older.
In this post, Bly is refuting David Meerman Scott’s advice to “make content totally free with no registration requirement at all so that people are more likely to download it and share with colleagues.”
In the B2B world, very little content is “free.” If you want a white paper or a special report, you have to hand over your contact info — and often the info requested is way more than is justified for a white paper or report.
Asking for this information suppresses response — or if people do fill in the registration form, they’ll use bogus information such as “Donald Duck,” or “Mickey Mouse.”
(I know this because I once put a “free” report behind a registration page. The results were less than stellar.)
One of my clients, a global manufacturing company, recently benefited from opening up their online content.
Previous to 2007, customers who wanted to download an MSDS (material safety data sheet) had to register for the corporate site. The registration process included filling out a long form.
According to the e-business manager, people complained about this — but it was corporate policy.
The policy was changed early last year — allowing anyone to download an MSDS without first registering.
The result? Web traffic SOARED — from 40,000 visits to 80,000 in just a few months, with over 61,000 downloads of the hot, hot, hot MSDS documents.
The e-business team expects the number of downloads to double for 2008.
Removing the registration barrier had an unexpected side benefit — it cut down on customer support emails to the business unit. Said one manager, “We went from 5 – 6 emails a day for these things to none.”
Apparently, keeping information “protected” behind registration barriers is common in my client’s industry.
It was pointed out that my client’s competitors lock up product literature — including brochures and data sheets — as well.
Imagine — keeping brochures, datasheets and the like from buyers interested in your products. I can only shake my head.
What do you think? Should B2B companies keep content behind barriers? Should they offer content for free? Or do a little a both?