If you’re looking to bring a sales team on board or hire replacements, you should know about the two contrasting sales strategies – inbound vs. outbound sales. Some businesses are successful with a mix of sales strategies.
Below is data from Statista, the first graph depicts the importance of emails in marketing and sales, and makes up a large component of outbound sales.
Daily Number of Emails Worldwide From 2017-2025
Image Source: Statista
This second graph highlights the importance of advertising and marketing in sales, and ties in closely with inbound sales.
Most Effective Digital Marketing Techniques According to Marketers Worldwide In 2020
Image Source: Statista
But others find it’s more cost-effective to choose one over the other.
In a nutshell:
- Inbound sales involve using tactics to drive leads and business to your sales reps.
For instance, your business might produce online content with a call to action that prompts readers to call your company for more information.
- In outbound sales, your sales team seeks out business and leads through activities such as cold calling.
Read on to learn about all the ways inbound and outbound sales can work in your business’s favor. There are also tips on what qualities to look for in candidates for either type of work and whether your company truly needs inbound and outbound sales strategies.
What’s the difference between inbound and outbound sales?
Let’s begin by explaining the difference between these two strategies in detail.
What is inbound sales?
Inbound sales are defined as a strategy that attracts leads interested in the types of products or services your business offers.
These leads don’t necessarily know about the existence beforehand but are actively searching for an answer to a problem or a solution to a need.
For example, someone looking to try skiing for the first time might start looking online for information about ski instructors and beginning skier classes.
In this sense, inbound sales are part of a digital marketing strategy. Marketing involves generating interest in products and services. The marketing team or company creates content and advertisement that people will see and want to interact with.
Research on buying patterns shows that 87% of consumers start their searches online. Many inbound sales funnels take advantage of this behavior.
Online content in the form of blogs, eBooks, white papers, PPC ads, and YouTube commercials provides information about what consumers are searching for.
More importantly, the content builds and nurtures a relationship between consumers and businesses, eventually moving them toward taking action.
Ideally, that action is purchasing related products and services from the business that produces the content. However, at the beginning stages of the relationship, that action may be filling out a contact form for a follow-up call or reaching out to an online sales team to discuss their options.
What is outbound sales?
Outbound sales use a different strategy where sales reps initiate contact with leads who may or may not have expressed previous interest in the company’s products and services.
Sales reps may work from a list of potential leads within a territory. They will reach out via email or phone or show up in person to gauge interest.
In other words, the company gains customers by convincing leads to make a purchase. It is not a marketing effort but a sales effort.
Sales reps will usually leave behind their direct contact information, although they will also follow up with potential leads a few times. They may give presentations and demonstrations to prospective customers and leave behind booklets, brochures, and flyers.
Once leads indicate firm interest, sales teams will generate quotes for products and services. They’ll also help clients complete the purchase process and perform initial customer service activities.
Different stages of awareness
Consumers generally move through 5 stages of awareness, according to a model promoted by Eugene Schwartz.
Those stages are:
- Problem aware
- Solution aware
- Product aware
- Most aware
During the unaware stage, consumers aren’t conscious that they have a need or a problem. Sometimes they are aware of the need or problem but don’t acknowledge it.
The problem aware stage means consumers have acknowledged the issue but don’t know how to address it. When they’re aware of a solution, they know what needs to be done but don’t have specific products or services in mind.
As consumers move to the final stages, they first become aware of specific solutions but need more information or convincing. At the final stage, leads are getting close to choosing a product or service to solve their problem or need.
While prospects inbound sales usually come to a company during the problem or solution aware stage, those moving through an outbound sales funnel are more likely to begin at the unaware stage.
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Different qualification KPIs and metrics
Lead qualification, KPIs, and metrics are used in both inbound and outbound sales.
The qualification process involves determining which prospects are most likely to purchase something. Most businesses and sales reps know that only a smaller percentage of all prospects will end up becoming customers.
Leads can become disqualified for several reasons, including not living in the service area or not qualifying for financing.
Each company sets certain qualification criteria for moving leads through the sales funnel. A wireless carrier, for instance, needs leads with primary residences or businesses within its home network. The carrier also has to have led with a minimum credit rating to qualify for postpaid service.
However, lead qualification criteria may differ for inbound sales vs. outbound sales.
In fact, an inbound sales team may first qualify leads according to essential criteria, such as expressed interest and the need for specific services.
Outbound sales reps contact the leads with a follow-up call or visit to run through additional qualification criteria. During a follow-up visit, the lead may indicate they didn’t understand the company’s products and services or that they can’t afford to purchase them.
There may also be times when different prospects meet the same criteria but require separate approaches due to the potential value to your business.
For example, you may have two leads who have an interest in the solutions your company provides. They both can afford to make a purchase, but one wants to buy a set of services that cost more and sign an ongoing maintenance contract. The other is more interested in making a one-time purchase.
In this scenario, a higher-level account executive or key account manager may handle the nurturing process.
Your company will likely make more thorough efforts to win the prospect’s business and spend more on acquisition costs. This could include repeated visits to the prospect’s facilities and informational lunches.
How inbound and outbound sales can influence each other?
Quite a few businesses discover that inbound and outbound sales strategies need to intersect.
For example, companies that need to develop new products have to find out what problems customers are trying to solve and their preferences.
Product development firms driven by first-party data rely on inbound information and customer personas to craft their outreach.
A school district, for instance, is a different type of customer than an international enterprise. Software as a service (SaaS) products and offerings would need to scale quite differently for these customers.
While a local school district may have hundreds of users, an international enterprise is going to demand more bandwidth and capabilities. Moreover, developing services and products like SaaS usually requires companies to focus on the needs of different businesses and the needs of end consumers.
Microsoft Office 365 is a prime example.
Organizations of all sizes use the software. But so do home users with one or two computers. Although some of the core software may remain the same, options, scalability, and pricing may greatly differ.
Companies often have to sync data from inbound sales teams and feedback from outbound sales reps to build distinguished solutions. Additionally, the information obtained from inbound and marketing teams helps to shape the scope of the next outbound sales campaigns.
Even though inbound and outbound sales teams can complement each other, the roles require different mindsets and skills. Some think of inbound sales as a more customer-service-oriented role with some upselling and probing.
Outbound sales require the ability to deal with rejection and bring order to an unstructured set of responsibilities.
You might also consider bringing brand ambassadors, affiliates, and sponsors on board to help with your strategies.
While brand ambassadors tend to supplement outbound sales, affiliates and sponsors bring in prospects of an organization. Remember that you may need to complete cold outreach to bring these outside sales representatives on board.
Of course, this ultimately depends on your market authority and scale. Either way, the onboarding efforts are usually worth the leads ambassadors and affiliates bring.
Inbound sales examples and best practices
The inbound sales process may vary from lead to lead and between companies.
However, there are some best inbound sales examples you can follow and put into place. One of those is offering a downloadable infographic in exchange for basic contact information.
The information people enter to receive the infographic qualifies them as basic leads since they’ve expressed interest in your company’s information.
Leads’ contact information gets funneled to an inside sales team that first reaches back out to prospects via email. These emails can reference the prospects’ downloading of the infographic and the information it contains.
The email can be additional related information, invitations to webinars, or links to other helpful content. The email can also mention setting up a Zoom call to discuss the prospect’s needs further.
Another possibility is running a giveaway via social media where people exchange their information for a chance to win a prize.
The information gets funneled to local inside sales reps that follow up with prospects who indicated they’re interested in learning more about the company’s products or services. The inside sales reps schedule a phone call or invite the prospects to come into a local store.
Inbound sales reps act as consultants or advisors instead of pushing products or services on leads. They show a genuine interest in helping leads find the best solution, even if that’s not your company’s or the timing isn’t right.
Your inside sales reps want to ask probing questions but also let leads do 80% of the talking.
This is the time to really listen, show empathy, and establish trust. Remember, leads that become customers aren’t just buying a product or service. They’re often acting on emotion and are purchasing an experience that doesn’t end with the sale.
Outbound sales examples and best practices
While complementary, outbound sales strategies differ from inbound in some key ways.
First, outbound sales reps usually start working with more impersonal data and customer profiles than live individuals. They narrow down a list of prospects based on personas that fit the company’s target market(s).
Outbound sales reps may also work with segmented lead data based on the results of A/B tests.
Let’s say a wireless carrier is trying to target school districts for high-speed internet service. The sales reps would need to gather lists of school districts within a specific radius and find out who to contact.
Outbound sales process in this scenario could involve sending targeted emails to generate awareness instead of waiting for leads to respond to content. Strategies could also include introductory calls to decision-makers, sales sheets, and direct mail.
Let’s say the same wireless carrier is also targeting small businesses.
Outbound sales reps might spend a day visiting contacts at small businesses and finding out how they use internet services.
Sales reps then narrow down their list, following up with only the leads that are still qualified and interested in moving forward. Based on previous discussions, the remaining list may become more segmented and follow-ups might include brief phone calls and additional sales sheets.
Finding out about prospects’ concerns or objections and finding ways to overcome them dominate this stage. Once small businesses commit to the carrier’s internet service, the sales rep may become a service contact or introduce the client to a colleague.
In sum, outbound sales representatives work with a defined prospect group and actively follow the sale’s development. While inbound strategies seek to create an experience and provide information that a lead is looking for, outbound strategies aim towards securing a sale.
Can inbound sales and outbound sales exist without the other?
Eventually, most companies find that it isn’t a case of inbound sales vs. outbound sales. To be successful, businesses need a combination of both strategies.
You can’t expect content and marketing efforts to bring all the leads you need to you. On the other hand, cold calling and prospecting in the field alone are insufficient.
You can see plenty of organizations that use a combination of inbound and outbound sales. Verizon Wireless is an example of a company that disseminates online content and advertising to drive inbound leads.
They also have sales reps that call on businesses and government agencies to drive higher volume accounts.
Food manufacturers like Frito Lay do something similar.
They market ads and content to the consumer end to drive in-store sales. However, the company also has key account managers that sell display and end cap space in chains of stores.
A company’s proportion of inbound vs outbound sales can shift over time. Small companies and startups might rely heavily on an outbound sales team in the beginning but then slowly build up an inbound sales force as the company grows and come to rely more on sales automation.
Once companies start to generate more steady revenue, they can spend more on advertising and marketing. Traditional and digital media can then start to gain ground and bring customers to the business.
Depending on the nature of the company’s business, some organizations find they can taper off on outbound sales. Others have to keep a 50/50 split for inbound and outbound sales or as close to that as possible. Inbound sales techniques can generate better-qualified leads because it’s the prospects that are initiating contact.
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What tools can benefit outbound and inbound sales teams?
Traditionally, inbound and outbound sales teams don’t always see eye-to-eye.
Often, there are conflicts between the two teams as outbound sales sometimes feel that marketing isn’t doing enough. The reverse is also true, especially when gathering data that outbound sales teams enter into shared CRM systems.
Typically, different types of skills sets and personalities are attracted to inbound and outbound sales positions.
Marketing personalities tend to be more creative but don’t necessarily want to be around people all day. They like some sense of structure and want to provide support. People attracted to outbound sales positions may want to have the feeling of being their own boss and like solving tough problems.
They may have a go-getter attitude.
From an HR perspective, inbound sales candidates need to be comfortable sitting in an office for most of the day. They need to be willing to learn and strategize. Outbound sales candidates should be comfortable prospecting and have a resilient personality.
They also need to be good in-person communicators and think on their feet.
Some of the tools outbound and inbound sales teams can use to collaborate better and unify data include Outfunnel, HubSpot, and Salesforce. These web-based programs let both sides of the funnel sync data, run segment testing, and coordinate outreach activities.
Salesmate is all-in one solution for your marketing and sales team that helps you create swift workflows. It offers features like Automation Journeys, Team Inbox, Power Dialer that saves a lot of time of your sales reps.
Outfunnel can assist with integrating marketing and sales tools which can help sales teams to communicate easier with one another using a variety of integrations to speed up and simplify their understanding of the data in front of them.
HubSpot is great for sales teams as it has a sales CRM that assists with gaining important insights into sales prospects and can also help with automating tasks.
Salesforce greatly assists with closing more sales deals with its feature-rich CRM. You can automate the sales process easily and prioritize the tasks needed.
Further resources to learn about inbound and outbound sales strategies include HubSpot Academy and LinkedIn Learning courses.
As sales and marketing practices evolve, it’s more critical than ever to keep up to date with trends and new strategies.
If you take one point away from this article, it’s that inbound and outbound sales may differ, but they’re both necessary to grow a business.
The personalities and skills needed in inbound vs outbound sales role can also be quite different, but each member is valuable.
And both need to work together to find and nurture leads effectively.
Remember that it’s the responsibility of outbound sales to use data to qualify leads. And it’s the responsibility of inbound sales to gather and verify that data.