Inbound vs. Outbound Sales: Comparing the Key Differences

Luiz Cent is the Head of Sales at Mailshake, in addition to SaaS sales coaching & marketing growth, Luiz is passionate about sustainability, yoga, travel & urban jungles.
  • March 22, 2024

What’s the right sales strategy for your company? While inbound sales strategies are known for being cost-effective and relatively easy to scale, outbound sales campaigns are a powerful way to build customer relationships and close the deal.

Which strategy should you choose?

Both approaches have their pros and cons and are effective tools to help accomplish your sales goals. Ideally, the best strategies incorporate both inbound and outbound sales techniques.

Let’s start by defining inbound and outbound sales and their differences.

What are Inbound and Outbound Sales?

Inbound and outbound sales strategies are polar opposites—each one has varying KPIs, metrics, and goals.

So, what’s the main difference between inbound and outbound sales?

Prospects initiate inbound sales by following your inbound channels, exploring your product, and, ultimately, making a buying decision. Sales teams make outbound sales through strategies like cold emailing and calling, where they reach out to the buyer.

Inbound vs. outbound sales—how do you choose the right one? Let’s start by taking a closer look at the two strategies.

Inbound sales

When you hear the term “inbound sales,” you’re likely thinking about content. While that’s not completely incorrect, content marketing is more of a means to an end of fulfilling the true goals of inbound sales by:

  • Exposing potential buyers to your brand. The modern-day buyer spends time learning about your company and products to determine whether you’re the right fit for them before even considering making a purchase. Your inbound content is where they’ll go to find it.
  • Building trust with your prospects. Relationships aren’t built with a single outreach. You have to educate prospects about your brand and products in a way that speaks to them. The quality and relevance of your content will set the tone of your relationship with potential buyers and determine how they will respond to you.
  • Offering free advice. Giving freebies in the B2B world is tricky. When a prospect is looking for solutions to their problem, they’ll typically run into a ton of content offering run-of-the-mill suggestions that aren’t tailored specifically to them. Creating inbound content with information that can actually help your prospects can mean the difference between making a sale or not.

Outbound sales

While the concept of inbound sales defines how potential customers who find your company see your brand, outbound sales is about how you present yourself to your prospects. It’s not always an easy task—outbound strategies involve sending sales messages to prospects who aren’t necessarily expecting them. Outbound sales let you:

  • Inform potential buyers. Even if your products rival those offered by industry leaders, you likely don’t have the power of being a household name. Hoping that potential buyers will stumble upon your company by chance is not a good strategy. You need to introduce yourself to the right prospects before your competitors reach them.
  • Engage with prospects. Human interaction is key to making sales. Your sales team’s ability to assess a prospect’s needs and offer the right solutions makes all the difference in them making a buying decision. Interacting with your audience, whether over email, social media, or phone, is how B2B companies close deals.
  • Get quick results. Interacting with prospects through communication channels like emails and calls allows sales teams to evaluate their needs, behavior, and responses instantly. This makes it easier to get a clear view of their customer journey and determine whether or not your current sales communication strategies are working.

What’s the Difference Between Inbound & Outbound Sales?

Before we even get into how you blend inbound and outbound sales, it’s important to get a clear sense of the strengths of each strategy.

Jack O’Byrne, SDR at Mailshake, puts it nicely:

“Inbound sales is important because it’s where sales and marketing meet. It converts those warm leads that would otherwise get away. While outbound reaches those who, without people sitting on a phone, smiling and dialing, would never have heard of your company.”

So inbound sales is all about leads that are already warmed up by your inbound marketing efforts while outbound sales is all about going in cold, helping you make the first impression with people who don’t know you yet.

It’s important to understand the difference because prospects (the people who don’t know you very well) are different from leads (the people who have already shown interest).

“It’s kind of like when you go to an event, right? And you don’t know anyone,” says Kaysie Wagoner, Account Executive at Mailshake, “All those people are gonna be called prospects until you actually have a conversation with one of them, then they become a lead and then once you have that initial spark, that’s when you want to put them into a CRM tool and then build that relationship from there.”

This context matters. Your sales reps need to know whether a lead is coming from inbound efforts and are pretty warmed up or if they’re coming from outbound and only know about your company through cold emails. That way reps can take the appropriate next steps based on where the prospect currently stands.

Inbound vs. outbound sales strategies

Now, let’s look at some examples of inbound and outbound sales strategies.

Inbound sales strategies

Some common inbound sales techniques include:

  • Interlinking. Including internal links in your content is a necessity, not an option. Doing so helps move your prospects from one piece of content to another, giving you the most possible value from your inbound strategies. Don’t forget link building to get your content in front of more potential buyers!
  • Raising awareness through testimonials. Leveraging customer testimonials is an excellent way to help ease B2B buyers through your sales funnel. Encouraging your customers and partners to leave feedback for you will help boost your inbound marketing strategies.
  • Constant content creation. Prospects want updates—if your content production suddenly stops for a long period of time, they’ll likely make assumptions like the company is going through a hard time or even that its solutions no longer exist. Create a content production schedule and stick to it.

Outbound sales strategies

Here are some commonly used outbound sales techniques:

  • Sales onboarding. Finding the best sales reps isn’t easy. Instead of waiting around for the perfect fit, it might be better to invest some time and resources into training your current team. By creating sets of guides and pitch outlines, you can ensure that your sales reps have a thorough understanding of how to represent your company, products, and outbound strategy as a whole.
  • Keeping it simple. While an omnichannel approach is basically a necessity, don’t overdo it. Pick the channels to perform your outreach that will work the best right here and right now. It’s important to find the channels that your ideal prospects use and focus on those. For example, many B2B companies advertise on LinkedIn, but if a large portion of your prospects don’t use the platform often, it might be better to invest in a more viable channel.
  • Customizing content. Content isn’t just for inbound strategies. Many outbound campaigns rely on sending cold emails, and it’s crucial to pay attention to how you write them. Don’t send generic emails using outdated templates. You should customize your outreach messages to target your ideal customer’s pain points and their industry goals. Build a narrative, keep it consistent, and keep it relevant.

Check out these effective cold email templates to generate more leads!

Combining your inbound and outbound sales strategies

In modern-day sales, it doesn’t pay to focus on one sales channel while ignoring others. It’s also ineffective to spread your marketing and sales budgets across every possible channel. That’s why building a solid foundation for your inbound and outbound sales strategies is so important. This includes:

  • Customer profiles. For both inbound and outbound sales, creating a detailed customer profile is essential. These profiles help you gain an understanding of who your best prospects are, their pain points, and what they respond best to.
  • Data. Without the right data, how will you know which prospects you should focus on? Use every analytics and research tool you have available to gain data on your customers’ behavior and what drives them to make a purchase.
  • Technology. Experiment using different platforms and sales tools to find which ones work best for you. Customer relationship management (CRM) and sales engagement platforms can make finding your ideal prospects, turning them into leads, and closing the deal a streamlined process.

While inbound and outbound sales come from different directions and have their own distinct strategies, they are also interdependent.

It’s difficult to build an outbound sales strategy without a solid foundation, and that’s why inbound is necessary. However, for your inbound sales strategy to be successful, you need prospects to visit your website and consume your content, which is why outbound is also a necessity.

Want to learn more about how to optimize your outbound sales strategy? Sign up for the free Cold Email Masterclass and start turning your prospects into buyers.

Automate Inbound & Outbound Sales as Much as Possible

Technology is here to help. Automate the robotic tasks so your sales team can focus on the human elements of selling. Plus, it’ll make it easier to actually do both inbound and outbound sales in a way that’s sustainable.

“Most companies start one way or the other and need a tool to help them develop the other channel.”

Alex Franco, Account Executive Team Lead at Chili Piper

We’re obviously biased, but we recommend Chili Piper and Mailshake as a one-two punch to automate both inbound and outbound sales.

On the inbound sales side, Chili Piper automates prequalification and instantly books meetings on your behalf, improving your response time, doubling your conversion rates, and filling your pipeline with qualified leads.

For outbound sales, Mailshake lets you automate personalized outreach sequences so you can connect with prospects at scale while maintaining a personal touch.

And you can integrate Mailshake and Chili Piper via Zapier so you can automatically add information about your inbound leads to your outbound sales sequences.

Speaking of integrations, you can explore several other Chili Piper and Mailshake integrations so your sales reps have all the information they need on every type of lead you receive.

“We see the meetings rolling in through the integration with Slack,” says Sydney Senior, SDR at Chili Piper, “So when a meeting is booked, everyone gets notified.”

Win More Revenue with Chili Piper & Mailshake

To do both inbound and outbound sales, it helps to have help from automation. Chili Piper can automate your inbound sales process, while Mailshake can put outbound on autopilot. That way your sales team can succeed at both inbound and outbound sales and win more revenue.

 Try Mailshake

Luiz Cent is the Head of Sales at Mailshake, in addition to SaaS sales coaching & marketing growth, Luiz is passionate about sustainability, yoga, travel & urban jungles.

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