I was fortunate to have the opportunity to experience InsideView’s first user summit, Insider Summit 2012. The panelists in break-out sessions presented great ideas and use cases for success in a variety of social selling areas – I highly recommend attending their next summit.

One session of particular interest to me was, “Social Selling Best Practices With InsideView.” Insideview’s Koka Sexton moderated the panel which included Don Otvos of Yammer and Dave Vacanti of Cornerstone OnDemand.

Both Don and Dave provided great use cases in which social selling (and InsideView) enabled their teams to close larger deals, faster. Post session, I asked both panelists about their experiences using registration gated and non-gated offer content in marketing and sales efforts. Each described very different approaches to their use of content offers.

Yammer is an enterprise social network that provides a private social network for your company. Their approach is to exclusively provide free and un-gated content to create engagement. Since they have a “freemium” model, their sales team looks at demographic data (e.g. company size, usage, etc.) to identify whether a sales opportunity exists.

Cornerstone OnDemand is a talent, learning and performance management software company. Their model is to identify behavioral data (e.g. interest in a specific topic) to uncover whether there’s a sales opportunity or not. According to Dave, their content offers are almost exclusively registration gated.

In the B2B marketing agency space, we’ve experimented with a hybrid approach. On one hand, the audience for media placement and prospects for outbound efforts are identified based on demographics (company type, size, job title, etc.) and we promote gated content offers to them. On the other hand, the majority of inbound traffic comes via the company blog, The Point, which is our prominent “un-gated” content. The blog also serves as content for a big part of our lead nurturing program.

I have experimented with both gated and un-gated offer content in prospecting outreach via email and social media. With the “gated” prospecting strategy, I’m seeing about a 2% prospect to opportunity won ratio. When using un-gated content, my outbound efforts haven’t resulted in as high a success rate, but more prospects have become suspects by engaging in marketing conversions, like subscribing to our blog.

Even though the short-term sales success rate is higher when offering gated content in prospecting efforts, I wonder if the strategy is somewhat short-sighted. You would assume that since the majority of prospects don’t respond to gated content offers (and subsequently don’t become blog subscribers or Twitter followers, etc.), I’m missing out on the opportunity to convert some into suspects that might have a need in the future. Does introducing a gated offer in the first prospecting interaction reduce the likelihood of response for future, non-gated interactions?

In his (excellent) presentation, “From Content to Customer”, Eloqua’s Joe Chernov suggests that in marketing, suspects should be presented with non-gated content (no forms allowed). Should this practice be adopted by sales in prospecting efforts, or should it be saved only for marketing purposes?

Given that sales is interested in identifying near-future needs as much as possible, where does the role of gated content play in sales prospecting? Feel free to share your comments, thoughts and experiences below.