By Jeff Molander,  Communication Coach, Speaker & Founder at Communications Edge Inc.
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  • Should business emails be required to access content?

You've been asked for your email -- in exchange for valuable content. Checklists, free courses, ebooks, etc. But lately marketers are requiring a business email. Meaning: An email with a corporate URL. Not Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook, etc. No more using "that special" email you use for (what's expected to be) marketing junk.

Is this a best practice -- or a recipe for disaster? And how much of the content distributed is actually valuable?

Are valid leads being overlooked if using personal email addresses?

Considering evolving consumer expectations, is it still necessary, and beneficial to require a business email address to access gated content? Here's a look at pros and cons -- and surprising alternatives for maximizing lead generation and customer experience.

Benefits of Requiring a Business Email 

Targeted Lead Generation

Obtaining a business email address allows marketers to categorize leads based on industry, job roles, or company size, allowing for more tailored and relevant follow-up communications. 

B2B Focus

Requiring a business email can be valuable for businesses operating in the B2B space because it helps capture contact information from decision-makers and professionals within organizations. But are these contact details valid -- or "made up" to be content catch-alls (just as personal email address have been used)?

Right or wrong, many B2B people believe business email:

  • tends to be accessed more regularly than personal email
  • can be read at work and doesn’t invade private evening time
  • signifies a better fit to business 
  • presents an identification of source which can be read as “I expect to be contacted,” unlike personal email
  • increases the chance of matching the company to the person (either manually through LinkedIn or through business directory services such as DATA.com)
  • enables easier gathering of lead intelligence before first contact

These last two bullets are quite smart.

Increased Perception of Value

Marketers often argue, "Forcing leads to provide a business email helps them perceive it as more valuable."

The idea is this perception may, therefore, be more likely to engage with the material seriously.

Here's my reaction: Sometimes we wish customers will think the way we prefer them to think -- for our own selfish (umm, lazy!) reasons. We'll twist ourselves into a pretzel convincing ourselves of what we prefer to believe -- rather than do the work involved in rethinking, innovating a better solution.

Drawbacks and Limitations

Higher Barrier to Entry

Requiring a business email can discourage users from accessing the content, especially those who are concerned about privacy or wary of sharing their contact information.

This can result in lower conversion (to sale) rates.

"The neuroscience and psychology is clear on this," says John Bissett of Slingshot Edge.

When people have a choice and feel in control it releases feel good hormones. Counterintuitively they’re more likely to comply he says.

Think about it. Making this decision, strategically, is the difference between wanting a lead and needing them. The more information marketers require upfront the more needy (desperate?) they look.

should business emails be required to access gated content

John Bissett

And the higher the chances of users abandoning the process or providing incorrect information, (that "special" dummy email address) resulting in lower conversion rates.

"I have been using my 'spam email' for gated content for as long as I can remember, and when I put my real email. It takes 3 seconds to unsubscribe if the content is not valuable. Or I report it as spam if I am bombarded by daily messages," says leadership coach, Serena Martino, of SMART Coaching.

"What matters is whether in an individual case the insights on offer are worth the trade of personal information and knowingly entering a lead gen process," says copywriter Richard Hussey. "I think we all know how the game works by now," he says.

Missed Opportunities & Muggers

By forcing potential customers to provide business email addresses you may miss out on potential leads from individuals who use personal email accounts but are still relevant to your business. For example, contract researchers, students (yes, students!) or start-up businesses.

Petr Passinger dipped into his database in 2013. He analyzed 9 years of customer data. He found:

  • 22% of his customers used free email address in communication with them.
  • 7% of his customers used free email address in their first contact with them.

Dale W. Harrison of Inforda Life Science Services, doesn't care for the transactional dynamics. He asks,

"Why are companies doing things that people hate? This is just one of many, like hiding prices and not showing screenshots or demo videos of the product so they can force you onto their damnable SDR Hamster Wheel."

Harrison points out how forcing prospects to pay an upfront non-refundable charge (share their email) -- before they're allowed to know what they're getting -- creates resentment.

"Because you're forcing them into the role of a powerless supplicant. This is how a mugger works, and no one likes being mugged. This is still a transaction-for-value even if it doesn't involve cash, and everyone feels some sense of being cheated, no matter how good the material was."

The more information marketers require upfront the more needy (desperate?) they look.

vince moreau

Vince Moreau

CEO, Salecrush

Chris Kenton, CEO of Social Rep, questions the underlying motivations behind such tactics. He thinks we should be asking why businesses continue to invest in tactics that treat buyers as a manufacturable commodity rather than a valued resource.

"This is mainly due to short-term market pressures," says Chris. "Investors want rapid returns with trackable quarterly metrics; marketing and sales costs are baked in.

So you can throw 50% of revenue at whatever tactics you want, as long as the short term metrics look like they're going up. If investors started emphasizing a longer-term horizon, measuring brand equity and long-term growth, I suspect a lot of these tactics would change."

Alternative Approaches

Optional Fields

Instead of making a business email address mandatory, consider making it an optional field. This allows users to choose whether they want to provide it. This approach lowers the barrier to entry while still capturing valuable leads. This idea meshes very nicely with the below "Doggie Bag" strategy!

Social Media Logins

Implementing social media logins as an alternative to email addresses streamlines the registration process and reduce friction for users. This allows you to gather relevant user data without solely relying on business emails.

A Free Meal with Doggie Bag

Here's a way to get fewer emails in exchange for capturing MUCH higher-quality leads (more likely to buy).

Dale Harrison says an alternative approach is to invert the transactional dynamics. He recommends offering material (content) for free, ungated, and directly on-page when the customer clicks to get the content.

Just give it to them!

Then, provide an option to download a sharable version (e.g., a PDF) in exchange for contact information.

"The meal is free, and if it was really good, you can pay for a doggy bag!" he says.

"Separately, offer to keep them up to date on future material of a similar nature in exchange for their contact info. You end up trading a lower rate of email harvesting in exchange for capturing MUCH higher-quality leads that are likely actually to be worth nurturing."

AirFleet CEO, Elad Hefetz says a combination of free + gated content converts well.

Example: Free, open (ungated) templates or practical cheat sheet can then embed a gated offer. "For example, "A 'how to' of creating an eBook, with a checklist or high level structure that is gated."

Progressive Profiling

Implementing a progressive profiling strategy allows you to capture information from users gradually over time. For example, using tactics like follow-up emails, surveys, or personalized content recommendations.

Best Practices 

  1. Clearly Communicate the Value: Whether you require a business email or not, clearly communicate the value of the gated content to visitors, highlighting how it can benefit them and solve their problems.
  2. Optimize User Experience: Ensure the registration process is straightforward and user-friendly, minimizing the number of required fields and providing a clear indication of the steps involved.
  3. Test and Analyze: Continuously test different approaches, A/B test registration forms, and analyze the conversion rates and engagement metrics to determine what works best for your target audience.

Chris Kenton provides a cautionary insight.

"To most sales/marketing organizations, the customer is a metric to be won as efficiently as possible. Period.

Slimy tactics become attractive when they’re cheap and celebrated when they work, even if the long term cost is higher. Whether it’s a free offer, a white paper, a discount, if you’re trying to manufacture needs or desires rather than serve an existing need or desire, you’ve got a costly hill to climb. A whole lot of companies look for any shortcut up that hill."

Kenton says one important factor is not all products and offers are created equal. He feels this aspect is overlooked.

"Tactics and best practices ignore this reality -- make it seem like if you’re not winning, it’s because you’re just doing it wrong. No one wants to admit when they have a product or offer that sucks.

If I’m presented with an offer on the latest lead gen tool, you’re not going to drag a business email out of me, ever. But GPT4? I gave it up without a second thought."

Time to Rethink the Strategy

"If you design your content marketing strategy to 'move people through the funnel' and 'get MQLs', you end up putting together shitty white papers and a random newsletter to get email addresses," says Vince Moreau.

"Then you 'provide value' and 'nurture' these fake email addresses people gave you -- to try to push them towards the bottom of the funnel.

Here’s what you should do instead: be everywhere, all the time."

While requiring a business email address to access gated content has been a long-standing practice in online marketing, it's essential to reevaluate this strategy in light of changing consumer preferences and concerns.

Finding a balance between lead generation and customer expectation / experience is crucial for maximizing the effectiveness of gated content.

By considering alternative approaches, and offering skepticism to longstanding best practices, businesses can generate more valuable (higher quality) leads -- all while providing customers with a more engaging experience. Ultimately, the decision to require a business email should align with your specific business goals, target audience, and overall marketing strategy.

About the Author

In 1999, I co-founded what became the Google Affiliate Network and Performics Inc. where I helped secure 2 rounds of funding and built the sales team. I've been selling for over 2 decades.

After this stint, I returned to what was then Molander & Associates Inc. In recent years we re-branded to Communications Edge Inc., a member-driven laboratory of sorts. We study, invent and test better ways to communicate -- specializing in serving sales and marketing professionals.

I'm a coach and creator of the Spark Selling™ communication methodology—a curiosity-driven way to start and advance conversations. When I'm not working you'll find me hiking, fishing, gardening and investing time in my family.

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