Have you spent dozens of hours creating an industry report or an educational PDF for the sole purpose of capturing email leads only to be disappointed by the results?
Let’s face it — gated PDFs don’t always generate the number of customers you were hoping for. That’s the situation Klipfolio was in a little over a year ago.
Klipfolio is a dashboarding and metrics discovery platform with 11,000 customers all over the globe.
A year ago, throughout most of their articles and some of their blog posts, they were using CTAs that looked like this:
These lead magnets were generating close to 4,000 leads every month.
Conversions, though, were less than impressive. Only 2-3% of the 4,000 people signed up for a trial account of Klipfolio. Of the people who signed up, less than 4% converted to customers.
When Phil Gamache was hired as Klipfolio’s marketing automation manager in mid-2017, he had a different idea.
The Big Idea: Educating People to Be Experts in Data
PDFs have long been a tool used by marketers to generate email opt-ins.
The problem with PDFs — as Phil explained it to us — is that they don’t do a good job creating engagement.
“The traditional story is: someone downloads a PDF. They think it will be a really good guide. They open it once, read it really quickly, then close it. That PDF likely sits in their download folder never to be read again,” Phil said.
“But then they get added to this cold email nurture program where companies try to activate that person. ‘Hey, we noticed you downloaded this PDF. Are you interested in a quick demo to see if we can help further?’”
As Phil knew from Klipfolio’s conversion metrics, gated PDFs weren’t an effective strategy for converting web traffic into paying customers.
He decided to try something different.
Instead of using PDFs that created non-engaged email subscribers, what if he used an email course that would actually engage and educate people who visited Klipfolio’s website?
The courses were simple: 5 emails over 5 days that took no longer than 5 minutes to read.
The goal was also simple: help people become experts at data-driven strategy.
If Klipfolio could accomplish that, they’d have a much better chance of getting those same people to become customers — or at least try their dashboard platform.
As it turned out, this strategy worked really, really well.
Today, almost a year after switching from PDFs to email courses, Klipfolio maintains seven courses that have pulled in:
- 51,307 subscribers
- 3,076 free trials
- 288 customers
The Research: Mapping the Customer Journey (Using 2 Separate Approaches)
The first thing Phil did was map out the journey people were taking to find Klipfolio and become customers.
“If you’re lacking on the conversion side, it might be because you’re not spending enough time understanding your customers,” Phil told us.
Gathering insights by talking to your customers.
“The big part of this project for me was actually scheduling a call with a customer and making them walk me down the story of how they discovered Klipfolio and why Klipfolio,” Phil said.
After conducting dozens of research calls, Phil used the data he collected to create two ways to describe the journey prospects took to find and purchase Klipfolio.
The first was conceptual and based on the traditional SaaS customer lifecycle. It looked like this:
- Activated Trial
According to Phil, this is digital marketing 101. All companies would benefit from mapping out a “customer journey” that documents the different paths customers use when discovering their products.
Then, he created a second customer journey based on the potential customer’s point of view.
Based on customer research, he knew what people asked at different stages as they moved toward being a data-driven company, so he used their words to map their journey.
He called this second map the data-driven journey, and it looked like this:
- “I’m not sure what a KPI is, but I want to be more data-driven”
- “I’m trying to determine how to track KPIs and which are relevant to my team”
- “I need a better way to present KPIs”
- “I’m ready to build and deploy a dashboard”
- “I’m a dashboard pro”
By putting those two customer journeys together, he came up with this:
Mapping these two customer journeys side-by-side led to a moment of insight and a shift in mindset:
Not all site visitors were ready for a trial, but educational material could help them move forward in their journey.
The strategic shift?
Don’t just try to lure in data experts — create them. Or at least, get people interested in learning the topic.
“We’re bringing people from figuring out what metrics mean to their business to ‘What are the most important KPIs for our business?’” Phil said. “We’re helping them become that internal champion — the person who says ‘We need to be more data-driven if we want to succeed.’”
To help create data champions, they started at the beginning.
1) Start With an Email Course for Beginners
Phil gathered information from Klipfolio’s existing articles, blog posts, and PDF guides to create the courses. Everything he needed was already there.
“There are tons of content marketers and people that work in marketing automation that are struggling to nurture folks in the pipeline, and they’re constantly worried about creating more content. There are tons of opportunities for taking the content that already exists and repurposing it in different formats and little courses.”
The first lesson was designed specifically for beginners. He titled it: What Every Digital Marketer Should Know About KPIs.
As Phil put it, “In five minutes a day, people could go over all the basics.”
As described in the first email of the course:
“A KPI (Key Performance Indicator) is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives. Companies use KPIs to measure and evaluate their success at reaching targets at multiple levels. Monitoring (not just reporting on) KPIs is a great way to give your team an overview of their performance and on what’s happening in real time.”
The KPI email course helped complete beginners take the first step toward becoming a data-driven expert.
“Many of us who work in tech understand the importance of data, but there are tons of visitors on our site that are from non-technical backgrounds, like HR professionals or supply chain managers,” Phil told us.
“These are people who might not be as aware of data-driven strategy and the importance of KPIs. It’s easy to forget that there are tons of people like that in the world who are essentially starting their journey by searching on Google.”
This was a major shift from the content they created when they were using PDF guides as their lead magnets — which tried to attract people who were likely already experts in data-driven strategy.
Their trial beginner course increased the subscriber to free trial conversion rate by 100% — from 2%-3% to 6%. It also increased the free trial to customer conversion rate from 4% to 10%.
Klipfolio knew they were onto something and started creating more courses, working their way down the data-driven journey.
Over time, Phil created several different KPI courses, targeting different segments of Klipfolio’s target audience (e.g., KPIs for marketing professionals).
2) Use Organic Search Traffic to Drive People to the Course
Klipfolio has done a lot of SEO work to rank for queries related to “KPI” — including intro questions like “What is a KPI?”
The core of their SEO strategy is the creation of high-value blog posts that answer questions people are likely to ask when starting their data-driven journey.
Questions such as: “What is a KPI?”
When people visit Klipfolio’s site from these organic searches, they see a CTA for the email course above the fold.
In this way, they’re able to attract traffic from people who are just starting to learn about KPIs and data-driven strategy.
3) Create an Advanced Course
Creating a course for beginners gave Klipfolio a content asset for people who were brand new to the world of data-driven strategy.
From there, he created additional courses to help people continue their journey.
What does someone who just learned about KPIs need to know next?
How to track them in real time.
In other words: dashboards.
Phil used the same strategy, pulling together content that already existed in blog posts and the old PDF guides, to create a new 5-day email course about dashboards.
“Now that we had a basis hypothesis of what people are looking for, we wanted to see if we could graduate the people from the beginner courses into the advanced dashboard courses. Maybe after that, they’ll be ready for a free trial.”
Like the beginner course on KPIs, he went on to create niche-specific versions of this course.
4) Build a Trial Offer into the Advanced Course
“The courses that we did at the top of the data-driven journey were very educational and non-promotional. They weren’t pointing to trial,” Phil explained.
When a user is still learning the basics of KPIs, they might not be ready to jump into a trial to use them.
But after finishing the 5-day beginner course, they have the knowledge to move ahead in their journey.
As soon as a user would finish one of the beginner-level courses, Klipfolio would send them an email to invite them to the advanced course.
Once prospects advanced to the “dashboard” stage, they were much more likely to sign up for a free trial so they could follow along with the lessons.
This was when, as Phil put it, they started ‘softly promoting’ the free trials.
The message was, “You don’t have to start a free trial to do this course, but I’m going to walk you through some steps, so if you want to do this interactively, feel free to start a trial.”
For content targeting the more advanced data specialists, Klipfolio’s CTAs began to change as well. Instead of promoting the 5-day course, they began to promote a free trial.
Even though much of the content from the PDFs and the five-day email course was the same, the conversion rate to free trials was much higher on the email courses.
“I think people were still trying to figure out what they wanted to do,” he said. “Because we walked them through this material about KPIs and dashboards in the email courses, they were a lot more likely to start a free trial.”
Throughout the process, Phil tracked opt-ins, trials, and purchases closely using a Klipfolio dashboard that was emailed to his team every morning.
Over time he found the generic, lower-level courses drew in higher numbers:
That non-industry-specific content allowed Klipfolio to draw in a wide variety of companies.
For high-priority industries — marketing and sales — Phil created industry-specific courses which converted higher than the default courses. The highest conversion rates occurred on advanced industry-specific courses.
In this way, Klipfolio was able to move sales and marketing prospects through the customer journey with even better results.
Why did these courses work so well?
Phil believes the email courses outperformed gated PDFs for several reasons:
1) Users didn’t feel spammed
Because people opted in expecting a five-day email course, they were — Phil believes — much less likely to feel spammed by Klipfolio’s emails.
2) Users were grateful for easy to consume content
People don’t have an infinite amount of time and interest in searching out and reading tons of content.
“The way I pitched this to the team internally,” Phil explained, “the value prop was quite simple. There’s tons and tons of information about KPIs and metrics online, but instead of going through all of that content to find answers to your questions, just give us your email and we’ll send it to you in bite sized chunks.”
3) The courses felt like paid programs, not free resources
What really surprised Phil was the number of people that thought they were being sent the course by mistake — and not because they weren’t unhappy about it.
“At first I was surprised by the number of people that would get back to me after the first lesson like, ‘Hey, we didn’t pay for this. Did you send us this by mistake? I didn’t put a credit card number or anything.’ And we had to put more emphasis at the start of it that this is 100% free.”
They were giving away what some content producers were charging big bucks for.
One of Phil’s inspirations was Hubspot — since part of the company’s branding strategy comes from the amount of free educational content they offer to inbound marketers.
“My idea with Klipfolio is we walk you through the journey of understanding the importance of metrics and monitoring your business to ‘Holy crap, why am I still reporting in Excel? I can automate this dashboard! Klipfolio has been educating me this whole time — it’s just a natural fit for me to give their dashboard at least a shot and see if I like it.’“
Should You Get Rid of Gated Content and Try This Approach Instead?
Phil admitted that the educational courses can be more “bandwidth intensive” than a straight-up PDF. For smaller teams, this might not be a realistic approach, unless you’ve got the content and the automation chops to pull it together.
“If you’ve got a company that’s got no sales team and you’re all inbound, it doesn’t make sense to not gate your stuff” he said.
“But if you’ve got a scrappy marketing team, a decent sales team and lots of people who are ready to jump on chat with customers that are on the page, then yeah, email courses are definitely worth a try.”