How ungating your content can drive more leads with Angela Earl

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Today on 3-Minute Marketing, I’m speaking with Angela Earl. She’s an accomplished marketing executive, currently CMO at RFPIO — the industry leading software for response management. Before joining RFPIO, Angela was the owner of a B2B marketing agency which she successfully exited in 2019.

Angela shared an impressive (and maybe controversial) content marketing case study on LinkedIn recently that I’ve been dying to ask her about. My question for Angela was: “How can ungating your content actually drive MORE leads?”

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Show notes:

  1. Content is made to be engaged with, but marketers somehow lost sight of this as we went down the “MQL rabbit hole”.
  2. We became more revenue-focused, but forgot we’re creating content so people can read and watch what we’re making.
  3. Instead, we’re adding friction to the experience by asking personal questions. But really, our audience just wants to read what we wrote, engage and respond.
  4. When you start surrounding your content with “wrappers” like forms, chatbots and popups, you make it more difficult for your content to get digested and shared.
  5. Content marketers got on this hamster wheel of “more content” at the expense of “quality content.” Ungated content that generates leads requires investment: research, running surveys, and gathering tangible learnings your audience will want to consume.
  6. At the end of the day, it’s about building trust. If you add genuine value to your audience, they’ll come back to you to learn more.


– You’re listening to Three Minute Marketing where we interview the world’s top growth marketing leaders and distill their knowledge into actionable bite size insights. Now here’s your host, Chris Mechanic.

– Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Three Minute Marketing. Today we’ve got Angela Earl on the show. Angela is a very accomplished marketing exec. She had her own agency, which she sold not too long ago. Congratulations on that by the way, Angela. And now she’s VP of global marketing for RFPIO. RFPIO is a software for basically responding more effectively to RFPs. It seems really, really cool, but Angela herself has won numerous awards. She’s recognized one of the top 10 most inspiring women leaders to follow in 2022 among the top 10 most impactful women in tech in 2020. So Angela, you sound like a real badass. Welcome to the show.

– Thanks so much for having me, Chris. Makes me want to do that like see no evil emoji, like cover my face, thank you.

– Absolutely. Well, hey, let’s get right into it. I’ve got a really good question for you today because you posted a very impressive case study about how you’ve been generating leads basically with ungated content. Tell us about that, how are you doing that?

– Yeah, I loved what you shared pre-show that you went to read that article and it was instantly gated. Just to show you how-

– Ironically.

– Completely ends of the spectrum there are all over marketing. And I think as you absolutely pointed out it’s a polarizing subject that everybody has opinions on. So I’ll start by saying, I don’t think there’s any wrong or right way. I have found a lot of success on gating our content because of what we’re about at RFPIO, and other places. Content is made to be engaged with. We somehow lost sight of that. As marketers went down, this MQL rabbit hole, searching for leads and became more revenue focused, which was an excellent shift in marketing. I think both the creative and the science of marketing are really important, but with content, we forgot that we’re writing, we’re producing so that people can read and watch what we’re making. And really, we started adding all of this friction to that experience. Oh, give me your email address. Well, now I need your first and last name. Oh, and your title and how many children do you have? What’s your favorite color? And we start asking all of these questions when really they just want to read what we wrote. And by reading what we write, we build trust. We build thought leadership. We become experts on the subjects and isn’t that what content creation is all about? Is really putting our opinions and our thoughts out there so that others can read and engage and respond. And you can almost get a digital dialogue going when we start surrounding that with rappers, whether that’s interstitial popups or forms or chat bots, we’re interrupting the engagement with our content. And so bottom line I think it’s about reducing friction as much as it is about removing the gates.

– Yeah, so what happened exactly? So, you removed the gates and then you began getting more leads or did you do something different to the content itself?

– I think it’s both. There’s a lot of awesome things going on in content marketing and there’s a lot of ways that we might have lost our way. I think content marketers got on this hamster wheel of creation and new. And it’s not about constantly having to have a novel idea. So I think on this more and more, more, we started producing less and less valuable content. Ironically, we also started gating the access to that somewhat shallow content. So I think it has to be both, yes, removing the gates, letting people have open and free access to your thoughts, opinions, perspectives, but then you have to really invest in solid content creation. It’s about research. Don’t just go to 10 blogs and clip stats that are probably five years old at this point. Some of them 10 years old and repackage somebody else’s content into a new blog and call it new. You have to do your research. You have to run surveys, you have to put actual new content out there. Learn something, share something. When you have that kind of content, it’s easy to get engagement around it. And especially when you’re not making it difficult to get to.

– That makes a lot of sense, Angela. So thank you for that. So invest in content is generally a good idea. Removing the gate is counterintuitive because it’s like, well kind of, it’s really not though, because a lot of times the gated content or the things that you gate are often your best content. Or it’s like, sometimes they call it premium content. Like you would gate a piece of premium content. So bring that out or bring that out in front of the gate just simply gets more eyeballs on it dramatically more. And all things equal, if there are more eyebrows, the leads will likely follow.

– Exactly. It’s about investing in building trust, right? We talk a lot about authenticity lately in marketing. That’s one of the words that the pandemic has sort of birthed in marketers is that we’re trying to be our full, authentic self, which is amazing. But to do that you have to build trust. There has to be a give and a take. And I think brands are realizing more and more that it is about putting content out there. People can read, watch, review, whatever, because they’ll start to return for that thought leadership. If you’re the expert on response automation, like we’re doing at RFPIO, we really try and have a perspective on how to use automation with a human touch, for example. And so the more content we produce on a subject like that, the more people are going to come back to us when they want to read more about that. And eventually we hope like many, many software and service companies out there that that turns into a sale, but that’s not the initial pitch, right? It’s not this bait and switch or this undercurrent of an ask we’re just out there sharing ideas.

– You just gave me some really good ideas. I want to dig deeper into it. I want to actually brainstorm with you, ’cause I think we might be able to add one little layer to this, but I want to get your opinion. If you guys want to hear the rest of my conversation with Angela, please check us out on the website, You can see the full extended cut there. Angela, thank you so much for being here today. Let folks know if they want to read or interact with some of this excellent ungated content that you guys have, where would they go?

– is our website. We house everything there from customer stories to blogs, to our webinars ungated.

– Ungated, 100%, love it. All right, Angela, we’ll stick around. We’ll continue our conversation. And if you guys like this, drop us a like, comment, thumbs up, we really do appreciate it. We’ll see you next time. So actually I do have an idea for you. We’ve lately been hot on, well, we have a process called revenue driven optimization. And the way that it works basically is we are essentially connecting CRM with ad platforms. So that instead of just firing a conversion, like when somebody fills out a form, like say you’re running Google ads, you fire a conversion when somebody fills out a form, so you get a 100 leads, the conversion fires 100 times, but Google has no way to know what you’re good and what you aren’t. So we’ve got a process where we link into CRM. And so when one of those leads say becomes an opportunity or becomes a deal, we fire a secondary conversion back to Google letting them know that, hey, this click basically was a high value click, so then-

– Almost like a goal conversion.

– Exactly, yeah. Almost like lead scoring except we do it in a way where the data’s exposed to Google so that it can tap. So Google can apply machine learning and better understand like the characteristics of the good ones, so anyway. And that’s referred to like in enterprise circles, they call that first party data, first party data activation. So your CRM data, you’re activating that in the ad platform. So we can also have signals that instead of from CRM are firing front end before the conversion. So say that you have a landing page and that landing page asks simply something such as like how many proposal writers do you have on your team? Like zero to five or like five plus. So there’s no gate, right? But the individual like has to select one of those things to proceed. So boom, that right there, the selection of one of those things is a signal also that we can fire back to Google. But in capturing that signal, you also have the ability to build an audience off of it. So say that you really only like the firms with five or more proposal writers, so you get 100 clicks to-

– And in your cohort of people that are selecting the 500.

– Right, and so those, we call qualified anonymous audiences. ‘Cause they’re still anonymous, but they’re qualified. So the idea that you gave me is that your premium content could be ungated. So there’s no form fill required, but it could be sort of layered in, or there could be signals strategically layered in whereby if for every 1000 people, ’cause if it’s just like a static page and there’s nothing on it, then you really don’t learn that much. Like you can see who has engaged with the content a lot, like who spent a lot of time on it and create a-

– I mean, look at the behavior flow too. But yeah, I hear you. You don’t have specific tracking to that individual.

– Yeah, but imagine if you had. So you want to know like the company size, the role of the individual, things like that.

– Are you pulling that from zoom or somewhere else?

– No, it would be from the selections that they make.

– Oh, okay. It’d be actually like you’re saying first part, it would be them telling you, interesting.

– Like you could take, say you have like a really long case study that’s like five or six scrolls long, you could break that up over several pages and have like a short blip that then is a choose your own adventure almost kind of a thing. The content could be largely the same one way or the other, but you would be learning exactly what you needed to learn about those anonymous cohorts.

– Yeah, I mean that’s interesting like fire the pop up at 10 seconds on page or 45 seconds on page, right? You’re saying as they scroll, ask them ongoing questions.

– Yeah and it doesn’t even need to be a popup. It could just be a link.

– Interesting.

– It could be like, if you have five or more proposal writers, like see this page.

– Oh literally like choose you on adventure books. Like when we were kids turn to page 52.

– Almost, yeah, but then every person that goes through that unless they just bow, like unless they just leave and make no selections, you’re learning something about you can then re target to them, less expensive. So like a click on Google would cost you like for RFP software, it might be like 20 bucks or 30 bucks or 50 bucks a click. So you get that click the one time and you pay a premium for that click knowing it’s a good, like it’s a high quality visitor. And you would re target to them normally, but this way you’re building out strategically kind of different retargeting cohorts and you could also build modeled audiences that way too.

– That’s interesting, that’s really interesting, good idea.

– I get geeky on this stuff I’m telling you. I do spend a good amount of time thinking about just like well, the future of the web in general. I don’t know if you’re into web three that much or this whole kind of metaverse sort of concept.

– Metaverse I have to admit makes me roll my eyes a little bit. If we’re being super honest, I mean, I get it. And at the same time it reminds me of a little bit of like Star Trek. This sort of like alternate reality that I don’t know in our family, my in-laws my brother-in-law, my father-in-law are very into like space, NASA, everything, Elon Musk is doing all of that and I am firmly with team earth. Let’s fix the planet we’re on before we go exploring others.

– Yeah, I totally agree. But yeah, and like B2B usually is not the first movers. Usually it’s like B2Cs or some other kind of forward facing industry, but I am curious and eager to kind of watch as it unfolds, just the nature of like B2B content marketing.

– 100%, I think it’s one of the things that’s going to change. It’s like people aren’t watching it for change the same way that they’re watching other things. I really think we’re going to see this convergence of machine learning, AI and content, both the creation, the dissemination and even this awesome idea that you just had, like how we’re tracking and interacting. Everybody freaked out when cookies weren’t there anymore but it’s like there’s so much right at the precipice of being able to just deliver a hyper personalized experience for the reader, but also just give crazy intelligence back to the marketers.

– Yeah, hey, are there any marketing tools or tech that you’re enamored with or otherwise can’t live without?

– I mean, I came up through tech, so like you’re describing, it’s easy to get me to nerd out. I’m really watching what’s happening with like the ABM tech space, right? The six senses of the world. That’s an easy rabbit hole for me to go down and just super nerd out. I do think that there’s currently a gap between the accessibility of that tech to the average marketing team. So many are living in a world of like data piles and complex tech stacks that aren’t working that layering in something like a six sense becomes really hard because your data’s not clean. The rest of your Stack’s not ready and optimized. So that’s where I think it’s curious to watch, like you have this great technology that is starting to emerge, how do we ready the masses to receive it? And so you have this kind of pull and push.

– Yeah and there’s definitely a lot of tech flying around. Are you guys using like a 6 cents or Terminus or anything like that?

– Not yet. So I just got a director of demand GenOn who has already changed my life. He’s been great, he’s got great ideas like you do that he’s brought to the table that with his bandwidth and his creativity, I think we’ll be able to launch something like that this year.

– I’m interested to hear just kind of like about your background from when you were a kid even. Take me back to Angela, the kid and just how your career evolved. I’m not sure what you were doing before your agency, but I know you had sold your agency and that now you’re here. So could you just kind of take me through the chronology of Angela Earl.

– Yeah, yeah. I mean, we don’t have to go all the way back to Angela as a kid to know that, but yeah. I mean, so grew up in Southern California, we touched on that. Definitely grew up at the beach. Grew up knowing how to duck waves and catch sand crabs and things like that. Married a boy from the valley. So started moving north early on. Moved all the way to Portland in 2005 and sort of in that window, I was an executive assistant for about 10 years. So my first career, as I call it was really as an assistant, I worked in escrow. So title in escrow then moved and worked on a trading floor, which was a really cool experience for one of our chief traders, which is when I moved into the executive suite. He got a promotion and took me with him, which was awesome. I think I was like 30 years younger than most of the other assistants on that floor, which was an interesting experience. And stayed in the financial world in trading and stuff as an EA. Moved to tech at Tripwire. So Gene Kim who founded Tripwire, I was his executive assistant for a few years and that’s really where I saw marketing and the impact that it was making on the business with some really cool marketers back in the day at Tripwire. So credit them for my interest, but kind of made the move there. I chatted with one of the women that were working with me a lot for Gene to get him on podcasts and webinars and things and said, hey, I’m kind of interested in marketing, what would that look like? And so she just introduced me to everybody that was hiring and eventually moved in. And my first job in marketing was processing syndicated leads. So we’d put content ironically out there with gates and we’d get a whole bunch of people back and we would have to scrub those lists, remove all of them, Mickey mouse at Disney.coms and things like that. And then import it into Sibel CRM, which was our CRM of the time. And it was boring, it was manual. It took me four days and it sucked. And so I nerded out with some of my friends that I’d known, ’cause I’d been at the company a long time. I was like there has to be a way to automate this. And they helped me write a script in Excel that I could paste the CSVs in and run the script and it would catch most of the crap. And I got it down to four hours. So from four days to four hours. We joked that I was working myself out of a job because that was essentially my old job that I’d just taken down to half a day. But in that moment, and that was right around the time, Oracle was still one of the leading marketing automation platforms. Like I said, we had Sibel so Salesforce wasn’t even really a thing at the time. Marketing automation really hit the scene right about that and so I got the bug. That’s what I did, I did a client side for a few tech companies. And my appetite for learning was just faster than even the world of tech. So one of my mentors suggested I go agency side. He was like, well, you’ll get volume, you’ll get pace. You’ll get all of this. And I moved to a couple of different agencies before starting my own and got more and more focused on marketing and sales tech and business process. I think for me, having been an executive assistant who really saw the inner workings of the business, I quickly identified that there’s this process and people component to tech. I knew they had to work together to be effective. And so that’s really when I had my own agency, what we strive to do, we did business process reviews and we would kind of assess the situations and then make recommendations either for the purchase of tech and then the configuration or for existing tech, like how to really get the ROI out of it. And it was really fun, I loved it.

– That’s awesome, so when did you start your agency?

– Let’s see, I’ve been at RFPIO for two and a half years or was that about three and a half, four, five, six and a half, seven years ago.

– God, so-

– Not looking at anything to gimme an indicator, but it was about six to seven years ago.

– On your LinkedIn, so you had 2016 to 2019, you were ran your agency it looked like.

– Yeah. We doubled every year that I owned it, we kept growing like crazy. And then I reached out to Obility really to partner. I’m a big believer in doing what you’re good at and then partnering with people who do what they’re good at instead of trying to be everything to everybody. And so I reached out to Mike because they were great at digital marketing and my clients wanted help getting more out of their digital ad spend. And so I wanted someone I could trust to refer that business. I wasn’t going to try and take the business I was good at. So we started talking and turned into an acquisition really fun year working there. Got closer to the digital marketing space than I’d ever had been. I learned a ton in those 13 months that I was there.

– And then how did you end up at RFPIO?

– Yeah, they were one of my clients. So the CEO and I worked together in a past life and he started RFPIO around the same time I started Hot Samma and so we would meet for coffee. I’d give him marketing advice. He’d tell me about the business. And we just sort of like connected as we were both on this adventure. And then as they grew and they needed the services I was providing, I helped him in more ways than just the Hot Samma services. I helped to find the brand early on, helped him hire the first teammates, helped work with his sales consultant to define the sales process, implement Salesforce and get them stood up. And so we just kept in touch over the years. And then over Christmas holiday, December of 2019, he reached out and said, hey, I’m going to be hiring a VP of marketing. If you know anybody. And I said, well, let’s get coffee. And we actually sat, the coffee turned into a three hour meeting of him saying, let’s go upstairs and I talked to the other two founders. We laugh now, my car got towed. ‘Cause I was in one hour parking ’cause coffee usually doesn’t go more than an hour. And so at the end of the day I went down and my car had been towed and I went, oh my God, my car was stolen. And then he goes, oh no Angie, I’m so sorry, because it was the city parking lot like the municipal offices. So they monitored it really tightly. So yeah, my car ended up in the tow yard on my first interview.

– Oh my goodness.

– But it wasn’t an omen. I joined that January and now looking back, it’s been great.

– That’s awesome. Well, that’s a really inspiring story, Angela. And I bet you there’s a lot of people listening that maybe kind of career switchers from executive assistant to like high powered founder CMO, basically in pretty much no time flat. I mean, it didn’t take you a long time to do all that. It seems like you packed a lot into those last seven to 10 years.

– I have an insatiable appetite for learning, I don’t know. I credit a lot of it to just being surrounded by the right people who are willing to invest back in me and then my own curiosity. And I think that for anybody can go a long way, if you’re curious and you want to learn something and you lean in, I think, time becomes a dimension that sort of fades away.

– Well, that’s all we got for you today folks. If you like this, drop us a like, a comment, a thumbs up. We do appreciate it. Angela, thank you so much for your time here today. I’m going to go check out RFPIO personally, because we respond to RFPs and it’s a big pain and we could use some help with that. But thank you and come again sometime.

– Will do, absolutely.

– All right, we’ll talk soon.

Angela Earl

Angela EarlVice President Global Marketing

Chris Mechanic

Chris MechanicCEO & Co-Founder

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