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Not long ago, I was looking for information on account-based marketing, one of the hot topics in the marketing world right now.

I needed a little perspective, so I sought out a prominent ABM vendor’s site to get some answers.

If you’re a B2B vendor, that’s pretty much how your customer journey starts, right? For me, it just about ended before it started.

Too many questions

I found some great content – case studies, a white paper – but discovered that this brand wanted me to turn over almost as much personal data for that white paper as my bank did when I applied for a home loan.

How many employees did I have? Where is my main office? Where am I located? What’s my title? Am I a decision-maker? About the only thing they didn’t ask was my inseam.

So, I did what every other self-respecting person does when confronted with too many nosy questions: I abandoned.

Not because I didn’t want the white paper, but because the company asked too many questions on what was essentially our first date.

Content strategy, contact strategy and value exchange

Your B2B marketing communications program has three parts:

  • The content strategy: how you use content (print, digital, video, etc.)
  • The contact strategy: how you send messages to or interact with your database
  • The value exchange: where content meets contact. It’s the value of your content against the value of the information you seek from your contacts.

All three parts need to mesh to deliver the greatest results. A robust content strategy needs a robust contact strategy and a realistic value exchange.

For this column, I’m focusing only on the value exchange, because it’s the point where potential journeys often break off.

Why the value exchange matters

The value exchange is asking for and offering information that has comparable value to both parties. (“Reciprocity” is another term for this exchange.) Your estimation of your content’s value must balance with your prospect’s estimation of her data’s value.

With balance, everybody’s happy. Your prospect gets the information she came for, and you get the data you need to start the relationship.

If the value exchange is off-balance, two things can happen:

  1. You give away too much valuable information to your prospects and get little or nothing in return that you can use for your content program or your sales team.
  1. You turn off too many good prospects because you ask for more info than they want to give up for the quality of the information you’re offering. Once again, your content program suffers, and you have nothing useful to pass on to your sales-development.

It’s a direct relationship: the more you value the data you want prospects to hand over (business email instead of a Gmail address, decision-maker status, title, company, budget), the more valuable the information you must offer (brand-name case study instead of a blind use case; longer trial, custom quotes).

In the B2B world, the more specialized and high-level the information is, the more your prospects should be willing to give up information to get their hands on it. The equivalent in B2C is offering higher-value promotions, VIP access and freebies in exchange for a primary email address.

When the value exchange breaks down

I abandoned because the value exchange wasn’t there for me. I didn’t want the information badly enough to keep filling out data fields. And I was on a desktop computer! If I’d been on my mobile, I wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long.

Maybe if the vendor had been happy with just my email address in exchange for a basic white paper, I might have stayed around. Progressive profiling (more on that later) could have handled the details further down the road.

How the email address figures in the value exchange

It’s usually the opening gambit in the relationship. The email address is the one data point you absolutely need, and the permission that goes along with it, to move your prospect further along the path.

If you’re like every other email user on the planet, you hate spam in your inbox. So, when it’s your turn to hand it over in exchange for some content, you think carefully about how you’ll give it up.

Your prospects are doing the same thing. Why would you ask them to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself?

I know what my email address is worth to me – particularly my much-sought-after business email – and what I need to get in exchange for it, whether it’s a case study, white paper, slide show, trial-use software, even an email newsletter. Your prospects do, too.

3 other conversion-killers

Besides the value issue, three other aspects of your data-collection process can drive people away from your landing or contact pages:

  1. Asking for too much information on the first contact. Even if it isn’t high-value or personally identifiable info, just having too many fields can affect the value exchange.
  1. Putting up too many hurdles. It’s not just the number of fields but how easy they are to complete, especially on mobile, and how many pages your prospect must wade through before getting the goods.

Do you throw every piece of content you have at your inquirers, making them say yes or no to your newsletter, CEO video, customer testimonials and unrelated e-books before taking them to the thank-you or download page? (Hint: This is not a good thing.)

  1. The value diminishes. Both conditions show that the more work you make your prospects do, the more likely they’ll bounce away before completing their request. Your content might be genuinely top-notch, but every data field or hurdle can erode its value to the point where your prospect decides it’s no longer worth the effort.

6 questions to ask about your contact strategy and value exchange

As I said before, having great content is meaningless if you can’t do anything with it. These six questions can help you align your content and contact strategies for a useful value exchange:

  1. What do you really need to know?

Spend some time with your sales team and ask them what they need so that they can do their own research to know what kind of company, people or competitive situation a prospect is in.

Once you get that list, ask why they need it and how they use it. Do they need to know if a prospect is the decision-maker or someone who contributes but doesn’t commit? Do your biz-dev reps need that info at the first interaction to market more intelligently and effectively, or is it just nice to have?

  1. What’s the value exchange?

Once you have your list of the data points you need, you can see whether they’re commensurate with what your prospects are likely to give you in exchange for your offer.

Low-value content is not going to attract high-quality email addresses. Many businesses bar form completions with webmail or throwaway email addresses (Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, etc.), but it’s not a given that your prospect will come back with a business email address after all.

A generic best-practices white paper probably has low value. A consumer study with exclusive data showing that teens do use email and consumers access email primarily on mobile has high value.

Look at your contact forms and evaluate whether the information you’re seeking lines up with the value of the content you’re offering. If you have hot content, you can get away with asking one more question. Low-value content should have low barriers.

  1. What does your testing show?

Whatever email platform, testing tool or landing-page service you use should let you test what you’re doing. Use it to find out where prospects are dropping out in on the path to qualification and eventually to conversion.

If you ask for two data points (e.g., name and email address), test what happens if you add one or two more questions.

  1. Do you use progressive profiling?

Some marketing tools allow you to ask one more question after every interaction. This graduated set of questions, each of which builds on the previous one, helps you build a data storehouse over time. As your leads become more invested in your brand, you can ferret out more information.

If you already know your lead’s company size, for example, the question on the next interaction can be, “What’s your company’s estimated annual income?”

  1. What are you doing with the data?

Now it’s your turn to answer the question you put to the sales team.

Your answers will be a check on your marketing and sales systems to see not only if the data is being used but also whether you’re using it effectively.

In the B2C world, consumers expect that the data you collect will show up in your email. If you ask for gender, someone who identifies as male doesn’t expect to see women’s merchandise. If you ask for the birth date, you’d better send a birthday email.

  1. Do you have what you need to use that information effectively?

What does your marketing team need to do its own work, to cultivate prospects into leads over time so that you send only high-quality leads on to sales?

Your new leads aren’t going to convert tomorrow. Do you have the right data to build nurturing programs and the right automation platform to use it?

Look at the hidden data that your salespeople don’t need – pages visited, time on site, number of visits before the first conversion – and feed that into your automation.

Final thoughts

If you haven’t figured out what your value exchange is, start working it out now. A rough idea isn’t good enough. You should be able to spell it out and get general buy-in from your team so you can be consistent throughout your organization.

Getting the value exchange right through your content and contact strategies is not a simple thing, but you can’t have a workable lead-generation or business development process without it.