Soft vs. Hard Lead Generation for B2B Sales

lead generationMany B2B companies try so hard to generate more leads that they do not come up with a clear strategy for how to do so most efficiently and effectively. What these companies do not understand is that a successful campaign requires clearly defined goals and a well-articulated strategy.

This blog is meant to educate those with less experience in B2B sales and marketing about the fundamentals of lead generation. Specifically, we will address the difference between soft vs. hard lead generation for B2B sales and when each is most appropriate to use.

The first step in creating a strategy for lead generation is to formulate your overall goals. You should ask the following questions:

• Who are you trying to target?
• What is the number of leads you want to generate?
• What do you want to achieve in terms of sales?
• Are you willing to pay for a lead? How much?
• Where do you want your leads to be in the sales cycle?

The answers to these questions become essential in determining which lead generation technique will be most effective for your business. Depending on what your goals are, you will usually choose either a soft or a hard lead generation strategy. Hard techniques usually generate a higher quality lead, while soft strategies tend to produce large numbers.

The soft offer:

Using an incentive with an apparently low risk factor, soft strategies will give you huge numbers of leads. For example, if you offer free tickets to the World Series, you are likely to get a massive number of responses. The downside of the soft lead, however, is that most of these respondents are more excited about baseball than learning about your business. So, while the soft lead may give you the numbers you want, most leads generated in this way do not progress any further in the sales cycle.

However, in our experience as an outsourced sales and marketing company, we have found that offering an iPad or a gift card can be quite effective, especially in terms of generating a quick opt-in database. We have also seen that the soft lead generation strategy is most effective for businesses trying to target leads early in their sales cycle. This method will take much more time because of having to sift through large numbers and so should be used primarily when attempting to generate activity or jump-start your sales.

The hard offer:

In a hard lead generation strategy, you offer something that is relatively higher risk than free tickets or an iPad. When you make this type of offer, which may require some type of commitment from your prospect, the leads you generate are usually going to be much further along in their sales cycle. Some things you can use as hard offer incentives are free consultations, preliminary audits, invites to webinars, etc.

When engaging with these types of leads, you should be aware they have a much greater chance of becoming closed deals. We have found that a hard lead generation method is most effective for businesses that have little time to weed through huge numbers of leads and are therefore looking to talk to leads much closer to making a purchase.

If you are still having trouble deciding between soft vs. hard lead generation for B2B sales, a good place to start is deciding who you are trying to target. If your goal is to reach marketing teams, a soft offer may be the most appropriate. On the other hand, if you are looking to speak to buying executives, you may want to go with the hard offer. Once you decide the kind of lead you desire and determine what will be of value to them, you will be able to come up with a successful strategy for generating leads.

Gabriel Sales has over 12 years of experience as an outsourced lead generation company. For more sales basics, please feel free to visit our Blogs on Sales and Content Basics.

Core Competencies Required for Highly Qualified B2B Lead and Demand Generation

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we discussed how buyers have changed the way they buy and why your approach to  sales and marketing needs to change if you want more deals, to grow revenue, and to increase profit.   We also discussed why your strategy needs to align sales and marketing around a pure focus on the customer “buying” cycle.

We pointed to the fact that companies who:

  • Are ready for a longer sales cycle
  • Educate their buyers first
  • Create a shared scorecard to align sales and marketing
  • Embrace emerging sales and marketing technologies
  • And budget appropriately

We have grown revenue 157% over the past 2 years while also reducing the total cost of sales.

In Part 3 of this series, we will discuss the core competencies and disciplines you’ll need to support to make this type of growth a reality.

What is B2B Lead Generation vs. B2B Demand Generation?

Before we get started it’s helpful to understand what we mean by b2b lead generation vs. b2b demand generation.

B2B Lead Generation – For Gabriel Sales, lead generation is about putting targets into your sales funnel at the very front end of the pipe.  Adding a lead is simply finding a qualified person from a particular company that is interested in learning more about your product or service.

B2B Demand Generation – Is the process of moving that lead through a sales and marketing process to educate the buyer, bolster interest, and prepare them for speaking with the sales team.

Once you have a team in place that’s able to get the “B2B Demand Generation” process right, lead generation will become much easier.

1)     Content Strategy:  First, you’ll want to talk to your best sales reps to understand who your ideal targets are by decision maker type.  Next you want to clone the sales process of these top sales reps to figure out what is the best thing to say to early-stage targets, what are the best early-stage offers, and what are the most frequent objections or questions in the early-stage sales cycle.  You then need a content mapping tool and calendar to prioritize educational content based on the needs of your buyer and your sales team.  We have developed a simple tool using Excel that is then shared in the cloud so it’s a live, agile marketing document. Someone will need to manage this document. It’s important that your content ultimately supports the sales script so the two work together to move deals into the pipe in tandem always focused on moving the buyer to the next step.

2)       Content Production: It’s cliché but content is king.  It drives traffic, provides value and converts visitors to subscribers and customers.  Producing quality content is essential. Creating content is not the place to cut corners or try to shave costs.  If done well and consistently, you’ll become recognized as a thought leader in your industry.  This is a fantastic opportunity for you to differentiate yourself from your competition, because most companies don’t commit the time and resources to actually produce regular, quality content.  Content then becomes quite literally an asset.

You’ll also want to leverage each piece of major content at least 3 times.   So for example (and why we love webcasting) –  if you commit to 1 to 2 webcasts per quarter you can typically turn that webcast into a white paper,  create 3-5 shorter 1 to 2 minute video clips, and generate 7 to 8 blogs all from that initial piece of thought leadership.  Take the content that you already know is engaging and working for your sales reps and product specialists in a live context and convert it into alternative, digitized pieces of content to distribute and share with your larger, not-yet engaged audience of early-stage buyers.

3)       Content Management: Selecting a quality Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress is the first step in the content management process.  You’ll also need to staff a resource to maintain your content schedule, add and edit content, and publish it into the right channels.  Ideally, this same someone would also know how to contextually repurpose and publish your content.  You also need to have the capability and capacity to create landing pages at will for specific verticals and decision makers to aggregate and focus your content for specific markets and buyer types.  Gabriel Sales Digital Sales Base Camp™ was created to make this part of your content management seamless and efficient.

4)       Email Management: Learning the rules, regulations and best practices of email marketing and management is not a core competency of many companies.  A ‘Ready Fire Aim’ approach that doesn’t work when doing email marketing.  Proper messaging, design (e.g. smart-phone compatibility), list segmentation, privacy/spam rules, auto-responder optimization, and more are all major factors in doing email marketing correctly.  Many companies just blast their entire list and hope for the best, time and time again.  Many others simply don’t do email marketing at all! The discipline is still required as a B2B lead generation tactic.

5)       CRM Integration and List Acquisition: Making sure that all of your communication and analytic tools are synchronized with your CRM is an under-utilized practice, but one that can be the defining difference between converting a hot lead and losing a deal. Without conversions, b2b lead generation efforts mean nothing. You also need to make sure you are not spending money acquiring lists that don’t make sense or are redundant.

6)       Landing Page Optimization: Use landing pages to deliver your critical content in an organized way that also promotes a compelling, ‘easy to take’, and singular call to action. This is an essential but usually undeveloped practice in many businesses’ web marketing/lead generation efforts.

7)       Analytics and Database Management: The tools and methods of data discovery go into greater depths than ever before, but solid logic for how business decisions are made against all of this data are still lacking for many organizations.  Companies spend incredible amounts of money for the tools but lose out on much of the ROI by not investing in the staff and education to actually use them to demonstrate meaningful insights.  See Analytics Expert, Avinash Kaushik’s often-cited blog article on the 90/10 rule of web analytics success.

8)       Graphic Design and Video Production: Having quality graphic design at the right times can set you apart from many competitors. Having the ability to take your existing presentations,  customers and thought leaders and allowing them to get their best material circulating digitally will save your team 100s of hours annually educating customers.

9)       Social Media and Reputation Management: Creating active engagement with your potential customer base in the major social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+) is an ideal to which your business should strive.  Getting these profiles going is a step that many businesses have been reluctant to take and is necessary for mature b2b lead generation.  Further, setting up tools to manage your company’s on-line reputation (e.g. creating alerts anytime your product, brand, management team is mentioned online) is becoming increasingly important to properly leverage positive feedback from brand champions and limit the influence of detractors out to destroy your business’ reputation.

10)    Marketing Automation: This is the wave of the future for marketers and sales people, alike.  Aside from investing in one of the top marketing automation tools (such as Pardot or Marketo), making an equal or greater investment in human resources to optimize your marketing automation is the next logical step. The added intelligence gained (e.g. lead scoring, real-time visitor analysis) and the powerful tools available (e.g. automated rules, logic-based drip campaigns, page actions) will transform your lead generation and sales prospect prioritization beyond anything you’ve done before.  If you are unfamiliar with marketing automation, now is the time to educate and get on board. GS is an authorized Pardot Agency Partner (among several other technologies) so we have a bias for Pardot and we can offer unparalleled ability in implementing and optimizing these tools to quickly accelerate marketing results for any business. If you have never checked out a marketing automation demo don’t hesitate and take the time for a 5 Minute Overview of Marketing Automation right now!

11)    Phone Resources: Effective lead generation and lead nurturing still requires people to pick up the phone.  You need to strongly consider attaching reps to your marketing team and not your sales team. In terms of demand generation there is a difference between ‘educating’ buyers vs. ‘selling’ buyers.   Getting this part wrong can destroy your entire investment up to this point.  Getting this part right will give you a huge leg up on your competition because:

  • 70% of leads are passed to Sales Reps before they are ready to engage (Marketing Sherpa -2012)
  • 80% of mishandled leads will buy from a competitor (Forrester -2011)

And if you have the other pieces we’ve described above in place, like quality content production, marketing automation and social media management, your phone reps will have an easier time with b2b lead generation and creating engaged, meaningful discussion with prospects and the end results will be far more beneficial to your conversion goals. 


The seismic shift we are seeing right now essentially means that marketing now needs to own the prospect much earlier in buying process and take them much deeper. The goal is to connect the buyer with the sales rep when the buyer is ready to buy.  This approach leads to faster transactions and maximizes the sales reps time.  The line between sales and marketing as it applies to demand generation is getting blurred and this trend is not going to abate any time soon.  You need to softly press  for next steps with both your reps and your content.  This is why its key to pull in a marketing automation platform will accelerate your ability to pull it all together to score a prioritize leads.  In Part 4, we’ll discuss in more detail how marketing automation can help your sales and demand generation process.

The job and landscape is getting more complex. So who is going to actually do all this work?  How do you find marketers that understand sales and sales staff that understand marketing?  This is where considering to outsource to a b2b lead generation company with expertise in outsourced sales and marketing  may be able to help.  So feel free to request a free consultation if you are curious how we can help.

B2B Lead Generation Best Practices: Measure All Tactics

This blog will discuss a competitive advantage and a Best Practice for B2B Lead Generation for 2013. As a qualified sales lead generation company, we were surprised how many B2B marketers still had a black box correlating b2b lead generation to sales return on investment. We will let the graphics below demonstrate how easy it could be for your business to gain a leg up on your competition by simply implementing a tool like Pardot, as a best practice for B2B lead Generation.

According to the 2nd annual Webmarketing123 State of Digital Marketing Survey (of over 500 U.S. marketing professionals) Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC), and Social Media Marketing (SMM) are increasing in their level of adoption and spend, where spend is forecasted to continue to increase in 2013. The report when on to state:

“For B2B, lead generation is the top objective, and SEO is twice as effective as PPC or SMM for this purpose.”

“Budgets: 90% of marketers will increase or maintain spending on SEO, PPC, and SMM.”

Still doing SEO in-house? “Marketers using an agency are twice as likely to be highly satisfied with their campaign performance.”

What we found surprising in the study are the statistics below:

Hopefully a couple of pictures do paint a thousand words here. As we close 2015 and move to 2016 you need to ask yourself three questions around your b2b lead generation efforts.

  • How do I improve what I don’t measure?
  • If I do measure will it improve my performance?
  • How much more revenue will I generate once I focus my marketing dollars on what’s producing?

Gabriel Sales provides b2b lead generation services and builds demand generation engines that integrate both sales reps, b2b lead gen, sales engagement and inbound marketing efforts.  To see how we can help accelerate your production in this last quarter of 2012 so you hit the ground running in 2013 please feel free to contact us for a free benchmark review.

For additional info on marketing automation implementations, tips to improve the performance of your telesales team, your b2b lead generation  or how to accelerate your content marketing efforts please feel free to check out our resources page.

B2B Lead Generation Fundamentals – Soft vs. Hard

lead generationB2B sales companies have come up with a variety of ways to generate more leads, and building a successful campaign requires that companies carefully and strategically choose a method that addresses their specific goals.  As an outsourced sales,  outsourced lead generation company and outsourced marketing firm this is part of our series to educate customers not experienced in sales and marketing with some of the B2B Lead Generation Fundamentals to help them make an informed decision about lead generation outsourcing.  This blog discusses the differences between hard and soft lead generation methods, as well as when each is appropriate for use.

The first thing to do when coming up with a lead generation strategy is to clearly articulate you goals. These should be both quantitative and qualitative. How many leads are you trying to get? What kind of sales to you need to generate?  Who is the audience you are trying to focus on? How early or late in the sales cycle do you want your leads to be? What are you willing to pay for a lead?

These questions are important to ask because how you choose to generate leads will affect the number and quality of your leads.  Soft strategies tend to generate large numbers, while harder strategies tend to generate a higher quality.

Lead Generation: The Soft Offer

Soft offers pull in high numbers with an incentive that has very little perceived risk.  If you use a sweepstakes type strategy, and offer free tickets to the Super Bowl, you are likely to get an unprecedented number of respondents.  However, most of these leads are likely to care more about football than your product or service, and few will convert to qualified leads.  One example of a soft offer that we have seen work is gift cards or a free iPad.  As an outsourced lead generation company we have found that this is sometimes a great way to generate a quick opt in database..

This method should be used when companies are looking to get leads earlier in the sales cycle.  It also requires more time to weed through the large numbers to find qualified leads.  This approach is best when trying to jump-start your sales or create a lot of activity.

Lead Generation: The Hard Offer

Hard offers produce fewer respondents, but the leads that are generated are much more likely to be qualified.  By offering something that has a slightly higher risk, or involves some type of commitment, you are likely talking to someone much further along in his or her sales cycle.  Hard offers can include invitations to webinars, an audit, a consultation, etc.

Use hard offers when you want to target prospects further into the buying cycle, or do not have the time to weed through large numbers looking to qualify.  The leads you generate with hard offers are much more likely to convert to closed deals, so take this into consideration when engaging with them.

When it comes deciding which method will be most effective for your company, knowing who you are talking to is key — A hard offer is appropriate if trying to target buying executives, while you might want to try a soft offer if you want to talk to marketing teams.  Figure out the type of lead you want and determine what is valuable to this type of person. If you can make your offer appealing to your desired leads’ interests, your campaign is likely to be successful.

Gabriel Sales has over 12 years of experience as an outsourced lead generation company. For more B2B lead generation fundamentals please feel free to visit our Blogs on Sales and Content Basics.


Lead Generation Case Study for Social Media SaaS and Professional Services


Outsourcing Lead Generation Case Study for Social Media SaaS and Professional Services

The Challenge

The Technology Company developed a real time analytics technology had already launched into a non-marketing focused vertical with success but limited growth potential.  The product worked well but the market was not big enough. The initial company needed more capital for growth. Series B investors required new vertical and marque client traction to close round. The company had no internal competency in market research, analytics, solution sales or ad agency sales.

The Solution

  • Outsourcing Lead Generation – Staff three lead generation reps for first 120 days to fill the pipe
  • Sales Consulting and New Product Launch –  Simultaneously worked with client executives and  took existing technology and sales repackaged new verticals
  • New Product Launch – Staffed inside rep and sold initial low end intro packages.
  • Outsourcing Sales – Cut lead gen team in half and staffed a full time enterprise sales representative to move into elephant hunting mode
  • Sales and Account Management Recruiting – Trained two senior sales representatives hired directly by company as Gabriel Sales blended team filled their pipes. Recruited a Market Research PhD to manage client servicing
  • Sales Process Consulting –  Functioned as temporary SVP of Sales and Marketing


Pilot Deals Closed

Fortune 500 Companies Renewed

Additonal Pilots

Agency Relationships Scaled

The Results Were Amazing

  • First 180 days
    • 18 pilot deals closed
    • One of the top 3 players in; CPG, Entertainment, Beverage, Office Products, B2B tech, Management Consulting, and Retail closed
    • 2 of the top 4 Advertising Agencies running pilots.  5 other smaller agencies piloting
    • Series B round closed
  • Second 360 days
    • 12 additional pilots
    • 2 Agency relationships scaled leveraging solution across 5 or more Fortune 500 clients per agency as recommended solution
    • 5 Fortune 500 clients renewed and scaled from pilot to annual deals – three to $200K plus, one to $300K plus, one $500K plus
    • Helped to recruit a President to oversee entire business development, client services and sales operations
    • Transitioned Gabriel Sales team over as employees of the company

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