Most companies have an ongoing battle between sales and marketing, and even within those departments, over the use of hard and / or soft offers.  Specifically when (or if) each should be used as part of a company’s marketing strategy.

CEO’s and sales constantly yearn for hard offers – because they are sexy.  They make money now.  Marketing loves soft offers because they bring in leads they can market to, and nurture over time.

The truth is they both have their place.  In a minute, you’ll discover the advantages and disadvantage of each type of offer.  You’ll also understand why I’d drop hard offers like a hot potato if I had a gun to my head.  And had to pick one or the other.

Soft Offers

Soft offers are promotions where you give something away free; in exchange for a name and an email address.  For example an e-book, report, webinar, or white paper.

In your “sales” material you are convincing your prospect you have valuable information for them.  And all they have to do is give their email, name and phone number.  Depending on your business and the offer, you might even just get an email address.

Once you have those leads in your database, you can nurture them slowly down the buying path, using a powerful auto-responder sequence.

Advantages of Soft Offers

  • Low Friction – Its easy for the prospect to commit, so you get a better conversion rate
  • Long Lived – This is big.  Once you create the offer it can keep on working for years to come
  • Cumulative – Because of the long lived principle above, you can continue to exponentially grow your leads every month because every soft offer builds on the last

Disadvantages of Soft Offers

  • Most leads are not ready to buy today
  • Some leads will be freebie seekers who will never buy anything

 

Hard Offers

Hard offers are different.  With a hard offer, you are selling something specific.  And trying to close the sale immediately (or within a very short time).

Actually, up to about $1000 or so, your can close a hard offer online; without a sales person even needing to call.  Anything more and your online sales pitch should not try and close directly.  You are just trying to get approval to make a phone call and / or pitch in person.

Hard offers are where the glory is.  Most leads are prepped and ready to buy.  The sales letter (or video sales letter) lays out all, or at least most of the information the buyer needs to make a decision.

All the sales team has to do is close.

Dealing with these prospects takes a different approach.  While in a soft offer, you are presenting information and slowly nurturing a sale.  The hard offer is very much sell today.

Advantages

  • Leads should be “sales ready” immediately
  • Less Freebie seekers since you aren’t giving anything away

Disadvantages

  • Less Leads – 1% – 2% is a high conversion rate.  Compared to up to 50% with soft offers.
  • Once and done – Hard offers are usually available for a very limited time.  Once they are done, all the investment put towards the promotion (emails, landing pages, etc) cannot be used again.
  • Most “leads” for your Hard Offers come from leads you already had in your database.  You are not growing your lead pool.

 

This last point is very important.  Most hard offer inquiries come from existing leads already in your database.  Generally prospects who came to you via a soft offer.

If you don’t have a large bucket of existing leads, a “hard” offer is not always money well spent.  They are sexy, and the sales team will love the lead they get.  And, in theory, they should be able to close a very good percentage of them.  But you are dealing with a much smaller pool.

On the other hand, with soft offer leads, you don’t even need big promotions.  Some leads will eventually be nurtured to a point where they will call you.  Or, at least fill out a “call” me inquiry form that didn’t cost thousands of dollars to create.

For all of the qualified leads coming to your website, only 10% are ready to close in the next 3 months.  16% will close in 6 months and 19% within one year.  Soft offers help you attract (and close) the 45% who disappear if you rely on hard sales pitches alone.

In the early stages of business, known as the investment phase, your focus should be on giving value.  Especially if your budget is limited and you need to choose hard or soft.  You should focus on building your business and leads for the long term.

Once your company is established, continuing soft offers will grow your leads exponentially.   But, you can introduce more and more hard specials, since you have a large pool of existing leads you can market those to.

To summarize, you use soft offers for lead generation.  Once you have hoards of raving fans, you dish out hard offers to close a glut of sales quickly.  Both types of offers have their place and their strategic use together is critical for long term business success.

If you are wondering if you have a good soft to hard offer ratio, or you know you are lacking in one of the other, contact us here.

Inbound marketing and the web can be your company’s biggest source of revenue and leads.  But taking a very different strategic approach from the brochure / tradeshow marketing you are used to, is critical.

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