Six Key Differences Between Inbound and Outbound Sales

In this blog we explore the key differences between inbound and bound sales, and explain why we think a blend of both is usually the best recipe for success.


Inbound sales is attracting a lot of attention in the sales and marketing world at the moment, whereas outbound sales is getting a bit of a bad rap. Some people are even saying that outbound is dead. In fact nothing could be further from the truth! 

 In this blog we explore the key differences between inbound and bound sales, and explain why we think a blend of both is usually the best recipe for success.

What is Inbound Sales?

Inbound sales is a sales and marketing strategy designed to attract ideal customers to your business. It does this by creating useful and engaging content and using a raft of marketing tactics to make sure it is found by prospects at key points in the buying journey. 

 To be fair, companies have always used storytelling to engage their customers. However, the rise of the internet means it has never been easier for customers to search for information. As a result, canny brands realised it was an excellent idea to create content that not only attracts prospective customers but educates and empowers them to make a decision.

 Inbound sales is based on the premise that if you empower customers to make a decision, they will contact you when they are ready to purchase. And it is true that an inbound lead is often warmer than an outbound one. However, it is not quite as simple as creating great content, sitting back and waiting for the sales to roll in!

 If only life were that easy! In reality, even the warmest of inbound leads can benefit from some outbound tactics, but more of that later. First a brief overview of Outbound Sales. 

Related Reading: The 4 Leaders of Inside Sales

What is Outbound Sales?

As the name implies, outbound sales is the direct opposite of inbound. It involves what is often called ‘proactive outreach’, essentially cold calling, email marketing and social selling to potential prospects, a form of ‘interruptive sales and marketing’.

 Usually outbound sales focuses on prospects with whom your company has not engaged before and who may never heard of you. Although in the modern, digital world, outbound campaigns could be focused on following-up inbound leads, or existing customers, or people who have already connected with you via social media.

 6 Key Differences Between Inbound and Outbound Sales

As we said in our introduction, neither approach is better than the other. However it is important to recognise that there are some key differences that every sales and marketing leader should understand.

Outbound sales is more targeted

A good outbound sales campaign will be focused on identifying prospects who are as close a fit as possible with your ideal customer profile. Inbound sales tactics typically attract a less targeted group of individuals, which means some of your investment will necessarily be wasted.

 For example a CRM system provider may create a “How To’ guide, which is a valuable resource for many CRM practitioners who will not necessarily be budget holders or even purchase influencers.

Inbound sales is aligned with the buyer journey

This difference is worthy of a whole blog of its own, but we do need to touch on it here. Without going into the buyer journey in detail, inbound sales aims to create content that matches what the buyer might be looking for at each stage of the journey

 So, to use our CRM example: At an early stage the buyer might be looking for content that talks about the benefits of CRM, seeking reviews when drawing up a shortlist, and delving into detailed information about individual companies as he or she gets closer to the final decision. A good inbound sales and marketing strategy will provide content for each stage of the buying journey.

 Getting the content right and ensuring it adds value to the buyer process is fundamental to inbound sales success and getting it right can take considerable time, investment and resource. This is more true than ever now that more companies are jumping on the content bandwagon.

You Might Like: 10 Benefits of Outsourced Sales For Start-Ups

Inbound sales is passive whereas outbound is proactive

By its very nature inbound sales depend upon waiting for the buyers to get in touch – so if you are going to put all your eggs in the inbound basket you need to be very sure you have got your content strategy right!

 On the other hand outbound sales is based on reaching out to prospects, which means your sales representatives will identify ‘good fit’ organisations and contact your buyers. Of course, outbound sales ‘interrupts’ your audience with information they don’t also want or need, it can also make valuable connections with people that have a live project and a budget.

 In fact modern outbound sales is adept at building relationships with prospective buyers who are not yet ready, taking them through a discovery process and nurturing them to the point where they are generating a qualified lead. Which brings us to the next point.

Outbound sales is more personal

Of course, not every outbound call or email is going to lead to a long-term relationship. The reality is that outbound sales representatives will contact a lot of people who are not interested. In that sense it is a numbers game.

 Fortune favours the brave as they say, and we believe it just makes sense to reach out to people you would like to become your customers! If you have done your customer targeting correctly, then you have something valuable to offer them. And that could be the basis of a genuine connection.

 However it is important to recognise that building good relationships takes time and with outbound you are investing in long-term pipeline development, not just quick wins. Of course, we all welcome quick wins and they do happen – on those happy occasions your business development representative contacts the right person at the right time. And a certain amount of serendipity is part of the value of outbound activity.

ROI is easier to calculate for outbound sales

Not everyone will agree with this statement, but we are willing to argue our case! It doesn’t necessarily mean that ROI is always higher for outbound (although in our experience it can be), just that it is easier to know precisely how much income you are generating for your budget.

 It is pretty easy to work out the cost of an outbound sales and to track Return on Investment (ROI). The key is to optimise your ROI by building an effective outbound strategy. This typically involves: understanding your target customer; accurate targeting; a well thought-through discovery process; and skilled business development representatives.

 As the icing on the cake, understanding which sales behaviours lead to success and creating a culture that fosters those behaviours can take your outbound sales activity from good to great. If you’d like to learn more about that, we’d be happy to have a coffee with you. It is a topic very close to our heart here at Pace.

 The ROI for inbound sales is harder to calculate, because it is a complex process, usually involving more resources across more departments. The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are usually based on activities rather than financial outcomes, which can make it harder to work out the actual ROI.

Related Reading: 5 Crucial Ways Telemarketing Drives B2B Lead Generation

It is easier to control the pace of outbound sales

Successful inbound sales and marketing depends upon long-term investment, in creating quality content, developing and implementing a successful SEO strategy and making sure your content is visible in a highly competitive arena. All of this takes time. And on top of that, the bar is constantly being raised, as more companies jump on the inbound bandwagon.

 So it is harder to turn inbound on and off. It all takes time to ramp up. On the other hand an outbound campaign can be up and running very quickly, especially if you decide to engage a third party such as Pace. This is one of the strengths of outbound sales, particularly if you need to hit revenue targets, enter a new region or market-place, or fill a gap in internal resources.

Working Together in Perfect Harmony

This blog may come across as biased, but in reality at Pace we recognise the strengths of both inbound and outbound sales. The benefits of both are clear to see, and by understanding their differences, you will be able to draw on the strengths – and avoid the pitfalls - of each approach. The most successful sales operations will combine both approaches in an effective and considered way.

 Outbound business development representatives will always thrive if they have great and relevant content to share with prospects. There will come a point in all inbound sales journeys when prospects will need a face-to-face conversation. And that outreach from your business development representative could come at just the right time.

 The key takeaway from this blog is that you need to invest in creating connections with your prospects, or lose out to competitors who do. The key question really is how to make best use of your resource to win in a world of every-increasing digital interactions.

 Contact us to find out more about our business development services!

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