Inbound vs. outbound sales: What, when and how

We studied the best marketing and sales minds and distilled them to a simple conclusion:

“Every sales strategy can be categorized into two buckets; inbound or outbound, and neither is the better way to sell.”

In fact, both are great and often used together as part of a larger GTM strategy. So, to help you understand inbound and outbound, this post will cover everything from their differences to the pros and cons of each approach. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of which sales strategy is right for your business (and when).


What is inbound sales?

Inbound is a sales and marketing strategy focused on attracting customers through helpful and exciting content that draws people toward your product or service. It’s all about providing value to prospects—no strings attached.

Think about the last time you Googled something like, “How to improve SDR pipeline.” You were likely looking for an article, infographic, report or video that would answer your question and give you the guidance you need to quickly get back on your way. (You definitely weren’t looking for a sales pitch.) The same principles are true for inbound sales. 

To support an inbound motion, businesses create content meant to deliver immediate value—agnostic of your product and without selling. The goal is simply to attract and build trust with prospects. The long-term play is to then rely on that genuine trust to build a relationship that eventually turns a prospect into a customer and an advocate.


Components of inbound selling

Inbound selling has four key components:

1. Attraction

Before any sale can happen, you need to discover and attract the right audience. Inbound sales relies on content and SEO strategies to draw people in.

2. Engagement

Once you have someone’s attention, you need to engage them further. You can use forms, live chat and email marketing to continue the conversation.

3. Nurture

Inbound sales aims to turn prospects into customers, nurture the relationship and build trust over time. Why not sell right away? Because most people aren’t ready to buy when they first learn about your company and what you can do for them.

4. Close

After you’ve provided value and built a relationship, you can close the sale. You can (and should) use call-to-actions, special offers and free trials to seal the deal.


Benefits of inbound sales

Inbound has become very popular over the last several years, and for good reason. It works—and the results are visible.

  1. Increased ROI: Inbound sales is a cost-effective way to sell. It relies on content and digital marketing, which are relatively cheap compared to other marketing, lead gen and nurturing strategies.
  2. Long-term results: With inbound sales, you’re not just focused on making a one-time sale. You’re also focused on building relationships and developing trust, which leads to repeat business and more referrals.
  3. Greater customer insight: Inbound sales gives you a better understanding of your customers and what they’re looking for. You can use this information to improve your product or service and build a stronger bond with your current (and future) customers.
  4. Increased brand awareness: With inbound, you have the potential to reach a broader audience base, which creates wider brand awareness and, most importantly, more leads.
  5. More qualified leads: With inbound sales, you’re attracting prospects who already show interest in what you offer. This means that you’re more likely to close the sale and less likely to waste time on unqualified leads.
  6. Increased customer loyalty: Inbound sales helps you build relationships with your customers, which leads to increased customer loyalty and lifetime value.

Drawbacks of inbound sales

We just listed the pros… but there are also cons. You’ll want to take both into consideration as you determine what’s best for your org.

  1. It takes time to see results: Inbound sales is a long-term strategy that can take months to pan out. This can be frustrating for businesses that need quick sales to stay afloat.
  2. It requires a lot of content: Inbound relies on content to attract and engage customers. This means you need to have a lot of high-quality content to start.
  3. It’s not suitable for all businesses: Inbound sales might not be the best option for businesses that sell low-cost items or those with a minimal target market.
  4. It can be difficult to measure results: Measuring the effects of inbound sales can sometimes be difficult. That’s because there are often many touchpoints between the first contact and the final sale. So, you’ll need to track your inbound efforts to see which strategies are working and which aren’t.
  5. You need to be patient: As we mentioned, inbound sales is a long-term strategy. This means that you need to be patient and prepared for some ups and downs along the way as you measure to see what’s working so you can refine your strategy as you scale.

What is outbound sales?

Outbound sales is the traditional sales strategy where businesses proactively reach out to prospects. It typically involves cold-calling and emailing contacts within your target accounts, and attending trade shows.

The goal of outbound is to find potential customers and turn them into actual customers before those prospects even know or think to look for you. Traditional outbound —which includes a manual process of determining which companies to target—can be taxing. And the stakes are high. Afterall, your competitors are likely out there searching for and pitching the same folks. So, it becomes a race for who can get to them first.


Components of outbound sales

There are four key components of outbound sales:

1. Identification

The first step in outbound is building your target account list. As we mentioned, this is often a time-consuming manual process that is often powered by guesswork. Instead, we recommended you build your target account list with a little help from AI.

2. Contact

Once you’ve identified potential targets, the next step is to contact them. This can be done through phone calls, emails or face-to-face meetings.

3. Qualification

The next step is to qualify the potential customer. This is where you determine whether or not they’re a good fit for your product or service. (And, if you use Rev to build your TAL, you’ll have insight into their readiness.)

4. Engagement

The next step is to engage with prospects to sell them your product or service. This can be done through a sales presentation, demo, free trial or other methods.

5. Closing

The final step is to close the sale and get the customer to commit to buying your product or service. This can be done through negotiation, discounts or other methods.


Benefits of outbound sales

There are several benefits of outbound sales, which include:

  1. Increased reach: One of the main benefits of outbound sales is that it allows you to reach more prospects; you’re not limited to just your current customer base or website visitors.
  2. Greater flexibility: Outbound sales allows you to be more flexible in your sales approach. With outbound, you can tailor your sales pitch to each customer.
  3. Improved control: Outbound sales gives you more control over the sales process. You control when and how you contact potential customers.
  4. Increased sales: While outbound sales takes more time and effort than inbound, it can lead to more sales. Outbound sales is often considered a “numbers game” because the more people you contact, the more likely you will make a sale.

Drawbacks of outbound sales

And of course, there are drawbacks too. They include:

  1. It’s time-consuming: Sales reps spend time cold calling, sending emails and researching potential leads. This can be very time-consuming and may not always result in a sale. (And, if they’re talking to prospects that don’t match your ICP, they’re wasting their time.)
  2. It can be expensive: Since outbound sales is often very time-consuming, it can also be quite expensive. Companies that engage in outbound sales typically have to pay their sales representatives a high salary and cover the cost of any lead generation tools or software they use.
  3. It can be disruptive: Many people do not appreciate receiving unsolicited phone calls or emails from sales representatives. This can be disruptive and even annoying, which may make it difficult to establish a good rapport with potential customers.
  4. It may not be effective: Despite the time and effort often put into outbound sales, it may not always result in sales. In many cases, potential customers are simply not interested in what is being sold, no matter how hard you try to sell it to them.
  5. It can damage a company’s reputation: If a company’s outbound sales tactics are too aggressive or intrusive, it can damage its reputation. This could lead to fewer people doing business with the company, which would ultimately hurt its bottom line.

When to use inbound vs. outbound

When should you use inbound and when should you use outbound? The answer isn’t always cut and dry, but here are some guiding principles to help you understand when each is most likely to be effective.

1. The type of product or service you’re selling.

If you’re selling a product or service that is high-priced or complex, then you may want to prioritize inbound sales. It allows you to build relationships with potential customers and educate them about your product before trying to sell it to them. In fact, when you invest in inbound for a high-priced product, you’re also creating brand awareness which creates air cover for your outbound teams. And that will help them open doors.

2. The type of customer you’re targeting.

If you’re targeting customers who are already interested in your product or service, then you may want to double down on inbound sales; you can target customers who are already signaling purchase intent. But, if you’re looking to target prospects who may have not yet heard of you—and you want to reach them before they’ve heard of your competitors—outbound is the way to go. Targeting companies that have the characteristics that most resemble your best customers will give you the competitive edge.

3. Your goals and objectives.

Finally, it’s essential to consider your goals and objectives when choosing which, when and how to implement inbound and outbound motions. If your goal is to generate leads and build relationships, then you may need to give your attention to building a stronger inbound motion. However, if your goal is to close deals and make sales, then outbound sales may need your attention. And, as you can tell, both are important parts of the equation—which is why many companies have both.


Final thoughts

There are several factors to consider when evaluating inbound and outbound sales. Ultimately, the best option for your business will depend on your specific goals and objectives.

With Rev, you can support your inbound strategy by tapping into our high-quality, AI-powered MQLs and fuel your outbound by building and prioritizing your target list with accounts that have the characteristics you care about most. 

Contact us, and we’ll show you how we use AI and exegraphics to help companies grow predictable pipeline. (We’ll even give you a free list of target accounts that most resemble your best customers.)