Inbound vs Outbound Sales: What’s the Difference


There’s a never-ending battle going on right now in the sales world. Inbound vs. Outbound sales. What is the difference? What’s the right approach for your company? If you’re deciding whether to build an inbound sales machine, set up an outbound sales team, or develop a hybrid sales force, then this is the right article for you.

Inbound-only people base their preference on the fact that inbound allows brands to attract customers, be cost-effective, and scale extremely well. However, outbound selling is still one of the most powerful ways to build trust, close big deals, and maintain control.

The fact of the matter is that both approaches have their pros and cons, and they should be viewed as tools to yield in order to accomplish results and goals.

The strategy you design for your team will decide the type of sales strategy you use but should be based on your sales team set-up, your goals, your target audience, your product or service, as well as other variables depending on each specific situation.

Let’s start by explaining the difference between these two sales strategies.

The Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Sales

At the most basic level, the difference between inbound and outbound sales is in who initiates the sales relationship. Inbound sales processes get started by the prospect while outbound sales are started by sales representatives contacting the prospect first.

Inbound Sales

  • The prospect comes to the company by looking for information to solve their problem/need/pain point.
  • The prospect searches, reads blogs, attends a webinar, schedules a free consultation, etc.
  • The prospect submits his/her email for a free eBook, an infographic, a tool, etc.
  • An inbound salesperson might email or call them.
  • Inbound prospects are typically more aware and more engaged to start.

Outbound Sales

  • The salesperson reaches out to the prospect to offer them the service/product.
  •  The salesperson can use cold calling, cold emailing, or even cold texting the prospect.
  •  Outbound leads are normally less aware and less engaged.

Let’s be clear: neither approach is inherently better. Both techniques can be powerful tools for growing a company and boosting revenue. The strategy you put into motion will depend on a number of variables, including the type of business you run, your average deal size, and how aware customers are about the solutions you offer.

We’ll take a closer look at both sales approaches so that you can paint a clearer picture of what strategy will be the best growth channel for your business.

Inbound Sales

Inbound sales is the technique where companies “pull” interested prospects and qualify them to see if they’re a fit for their product. In other words, inbound sales focuses on the customer’s needs and the salesperson adapts to the buyer’s journey, acting as a trusted advisor.

The inbound sales process has four stages.

1 – Identify potential customers: Here’s where you engage with the strangers that stop by the showroom and convert them into leads. Let’s say, for instance, that you get their contact details and permission to send them information through content downloads, webinars or live chat.

2 – Connect with leads: Now you help the leads become aware of their needs and decide whether you can help them or not. Here they are considering your solutions as part of their goals.

3 – Explore deeper: At this stage, you begin a conversation with the leads to gain trust and explore their challenges in a deeper way to find if your products fit their needs and identify sales opportunities.

4 – Advise on a solution: When you’re sure that your offering fits the needs of your leads and you have their trust, you provide advice (this is your sales pitch) on how your product is the best solution for their needs. Then the leads become customers.

The inbound sales methodology can be very cost effective, since you are targeting and engaging only with people who have shown interest in your company. 

However, initially it can be time consuming to create content, build up and generate good quality leads.


Outbound Sales

Outbound sales is the technique where companies push their message or pitch to their prospects, through cold calling, social selling, email marketing and the like. In outbound sales, the sales reps are contacting leads, instead of waiting for the leads to come to them as in inbound sales.

Outbound sales is often dismissed because of its intrusive methods, such as cold calling, and some people even say outbound is dead

However, outbound sales is still valuable in many situations. 

Steli Efti, author of ‘’The Ultimate Guide to Outbound Sales: How to turn cold leads into hot customers’’ says that outbound can be effective because it provides the things inbound (usually) doesn’t:

  •  Highly-targeted outreach
  •  Immediate feedback and results
  •  Personal contact with prospects
  •  Control over the pace of marketing and selling

The outbound sales process has five stages.

1 – Identify potential customers: Define your target market and market segments, and prepare your team to reach out to them.

2 – Generate leads: Now that you know who you want to reach, you must obtain their contact information – either with an in-house lead generation team, purchasing a database or outsourcing sales lead generation to a third party.

3 – Contact and qualify leads: The outbound sales team now reaches out to the list of contacts by email or phone to find out whether they’re really a fit for your product or service. If they are, they move on to the next step; if not, they remove them from the list.

4 – Show off your solution: Here the sales team schedules a meeting or a demo to show the leads all the benefits of your product or service.

5 – Close the deal: If all goes well, the contract is signed with the customer.

A common misunderstanding is to equate outbound sales with cold calling, but while cold calling may be an attempt to capture leads with random calls, outbound sales is actually the result of data-driven research.

Combining Outbound and Inbound: The best of both worlds

Does it have to be one or the other? Absolutely not!

Use a mixed approach of inbound and outbound sales to grow your pipeline. For instance, in the last few years it’s become common to rely heavily on content marketing, a type of inbound marketing, to capture leads online.

That’s all good. So, once you have those inbound leads, you can use outbound methods to follow up with them, qualify them and close the deals. One example is to call those leads who have downloaded your content but have not replied to your follow up emails.

And hey, if you don’t have enough inbound leads in the first place, outbound sales when done properly, can be incredibly effective to prop up you funnel.

Take the best of both worlds by using the intelligence gathering of inbound sales and the proactive outreach of outbound sales.

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