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    Picture of Bill Viau
    By Bill Viau in January, 2020 | 14 minute read

    Inbound Sales

    Inbound Sales vs. Outbound Sales: How to Bridge the Gap and Fill the Pipeline

    Inbound sales have become the go-to instruments for today, but is there still merit in the outbound sales of old? Is it possible to strike a balance between the two toolsets and use them both to fill your pipeline with customers? In a word, yes.  Here’s how inbound and outbound sales can go hand in hand:


    Outbound gets a bad rap.  Since inbound took off in the 21st century, advocates of older sales techniques like cold calls and direct mail have been the butt of their fair share of “dinosaur” jokes.  

    But if you look a little closer, you’ll see that even inbound giants like HubSpot — remember, CEO Brian Halligan coined the term “inbound marketing” — are using a combined inbound and outbound sales approach.  Each method has its advantages, but the truth is that together they’re usually more than the sum of their parts.

    Let’s talk about why.


    Table of Contents


    Inbound Sales vs. Outbound Sales: What’s the Difference?

    Inbound Sales vs. Outbound Sales: What’s the Difference?

    The dividing line between inbound and outbound sales is the first touchpoint between the prospect and sales.  Who started the conversation?

    • Inbound Sales: A prospect reaches out to you. Typically, this is after the prospect has searched (online) for a solution to their problem, become aware of your company, and decided it was worth their time to speak to a salesperson for further information.  They’re already warm. There’s got to be some avenue available for strangers to find the information they want about your company for this to be possible, which is why inbound sales tend to focus on internet-based channels like websites, blogs, social media, and search engines.
    • Outbound Sales: You reach out to potential prospects. An advertisement (TV commercials, billboards, radio spots) might ask for a moment of your audience’s time and attention. Or, your company may have paid for a list of contact information for people with relevant demographics or interests that you can call directly.  It’s also possible you’ve done the research yourself — based on job titles, industries, or professional connections — to find people who might be interested. This is a “cold” outreach that companies use while prospecting to find and qualify warmer, more engaged leads.

    It’s not uncommon for a company to find prospects in both ways.  People are always looking for ways to solve their problems, which could lead them to call you up (maybe after finding your website or being referred by a friend). Others may have been exposed to your advertisements or received a cold call while they were doing something else, had their interest piqued, and continued the conversation with a sales rep.  

    Both can lead to a sale.  And when you include both in your sales strategy, you’re pulling in as many leads from as many sources as possible — win/win. But which inbound and outbound sales techniques work? 

    If you’re weighing inbound sales vs. outbound sales tools for your own mixed sales strategy, here’s a quick rundown of your options:

    7 Tools of an Inbound Sales Strategy

    Tools of an Inbound Sales Strategy

    Inbound relies upon channels where your target audience is actively searching for information, solutions, and interaction with your content or people related to your product/service.  Marketing plays a more significant role in an inbound strategy than it used to in the days before the internet, back when consumers had to primarily rely upon salespeople for detailed information on the products or services they were interested in purchasing.  

    Inbound sales uses tools to position salespeople for success in the modern, customer-centric purchasing environment:

    • Smarketing: This is a jargon term for the integration and alignment of your sales and marketing teams.  So much of their work overlaps in the digital environment that both teams must be on the same page and have access to the same resources and information.
    • Sales Enablement Content: You empower inbound sales reps when you arm them with sales decks, case studies, eBooks, testimonials, playbooks, tutorial videos, and more. Have marketing collaborate with sales to plan, develop, and maintain a powerful sales content library that will help them consult and assist prospects at each stage of the deal pipeline.  
    • Customer Journey Alignment: This is the idea that your company should provide specific sales language and content that best serves each stage of the sales funnel.  Sales can become involved up and down the funnel in the inbound world, but a prospect has different needs and objections at each stage, so you must speak to them where they’re at in their journey.
    • Lead Nurturing (With Email Sequences): Your lead nurturing strategy is a critical component of inbound marketing and sales. Sales email sequences sometimes target customers who abandon digital carts or go radio dark during the sales process.  Other times, the sequence is to nurture an SQL towards conversion. You might ramp up from a welcome email, to social proof, to a product demo, to a webinar, a time-bound purchase incentive, to a last chance reminder.
    • Social Media Monitoring: Inbound sales reps can use platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter to monitor social mentions or conversations relative to your brand — then join in at the perfect time with the perfect solution.  This is part sales and part customer service. Visitors may show up on your social page to interact with your brand (with non-sales questions or comments), then convert into leads after a rewarding experience.
    • Live Chats: With so many customers kicking off their buyer’s journey through digital research, a live chat box is a lot like positioning a sales rep on the digital sales floor.  You can set custom triggers to automatically prompt website visitors with live chat opportunities, and have reps always ready to engage.
    • Advisor Mindset: Rarely is inbound sales about a “hard sell.”  Instead, inbound sales reps take on an “advisor” role for well-informed inbound customers who come to the table with research, clear goals, and predetermined objections.  Success comes from exploring the prospect’s challenges, trying to understand their goals, and offering them as much guidance as possible in finding the best solution for their problem (whether it’s a purchase or something they can do on their own).  These salespeople establish trust and build valuable relationships for future interaction with your business.

    All of these tools are tuned to the inbound, digital-driven marketplace we live in today, where customers tend to make the first touch in their purchasing decision.

    7 Tools of an Outbound Sales Strategy

    Tools of an Outbound Sales Strategy

    In outbound, it’s the sales reps who take on the active role.  They’ll amass research on potential targets, then reach out to passive prospects to gauge interest and position your company as a solution for their problems.

    Outbound sales will use a mixture of traditional tools and modern technology to accomplish these goals most efficiently, such as:

    • Direct Contact: Make a cold (or sometimes warm) phone call, email, or another form of direct message to assess customer fit and interest in your product or service.  If it sounds like a good fit, the conversation moves into the sales pipeline. It takes excellent technique to create cold conversions. The big advantage?  You can reach out to people who may have never come into contact with your company otherwise.
    • Trade Shows: In-person sales still have an important place in your sales toolbox.  There’s a lot more potential for a personal rapport in a live, face-to-face conversation where you can also exchange business cards (and product literature). Maximize your opportunity with tech tools like in-booth tablets for showing off videos, accessing an all-purpose sales content library, or capturing contact information.
    • Commercials and Advertisements: TV, radio, magazines, and the rest still do work for outbound sales.  But now we’ve also got tools like online banner ads, streaming service commercials (Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora, etc.), and sponsored ads in email newsletters — with which you can actually track hard performance metrics
    • Customer Profiles: Outbound sales are driven by detailed profiles of your ideal customers that are based on actual users or advocates of your product or service.  This should include job titles, company size, industry, the path to purchase, preferred channels, common objections, goals and desires, and other demographic or professional trends/qualifications that make for a good fit.  Strong profiles help you focus prospecting efforts on only the most likely candidates.
    • Account-Based Sales and Marketing: Leads are good.  Accounts are better.  This is an outbound approach that takes extensive research and collaboration between sales and marketing.  The goal is to create a list of target account companies that resemble your customer profiles. Then, leverage marketing and sales tactics that will resonate with their group of decision-makers (not just a single lead).  Get in front of the right people, and they may share your material with higher-ups and help you close. 
    • Lists of Opt-In Leads: Third-party providers can save you prospecting time by gathering and selling lists of verified contact information on prospects who have opted into sales messages relevant to your vertical.  Purchased lead data is an essential complement to internal research and prospecting.
    • Social Selling: Tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator are fantastic for information-gathering on the professional profiles of decision-makers in your industry.  Send connection requests to relevant people, perhaps packaged with free content or positive commentary on their recent activity, then nurture those who connect with you towards a sale.  It’s essential to base the relationship on shared interests and genuine conversation — don’t kick off with a hard sell.

    As you can see, these inbound and outbound tools often support and complement one another. But they aren’t always complimentary, and inbound sales vs. outbound sales techniques don’t work equally well in every circumstance.

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    When To Use Inbound vs. Outbound Sales Techniques

    When To Use Inbound vs. Outbound Sales Techniques

    Not every business model is truly ideal for both sales methodologies.  The particulars of your product or service could sway you more towards one or the other.  However, most businesses can benefit from some mixture of the two techniques. Weigh each offering, campaign, or sales persona for its fit with an inbound sales vs. outbound sales approach, and go from there.

    There are always exceptions, but here are some broad patterns that grease the wheels for inbound and outbound sales:

    WHY INBOUND SALES?

    • Budget for the sales team is really tight
    • You’re offering high-demand, quick, easy purchase decisions
    • Lots of people are looking for this solution online
    • Interest in educational/informational content around your topic
    • You’ve got content creators

    Inbound is incredibly scalable because every piece of content you create is evergreen. It exists forever (or as long as you host it, anyhow), is infinitely reproducible, and can impact new prospects again and again without reproducing the same initial effort.  This makes it cost-effective for small sales teams that don’t have the resources (yet) to reach out to thousands of people one-on-one.

    In a market with high demand and quick purchases, it’s also much easier to construct your business to let people sell to themselves.  You’ve just got to help them find you (in an online search), and they’ll take care of the rest.  Legal cannabis dispensaries are a perfect example of a market with great search volume for local businesses coupled with high purchase intent.  Advertising the existence of the dispensary is expensive, but hosting a search-optimized website is cost-effective with a similar result.

    If your solution relates to a topic with an extensive knowledge-base or demand for information, inbound is perfect.  “Marketing” falls into this category — many businesses want to learn more about marketing, and marketers can provide inbound content to satisfy this demand while nurturing prospects. 

    Any sort of consulting service likewise involves people hunting for answers — and you’ve got them.

    WHY OUTBOUND SALES?

    • Extremely small target audience/limited pool of potential prospects
    • Expensive product for a select, high-status crowd
    • No one has ever heard of (or even thought of) your solution (or anything like it)
    • Long sales cycles with lots of layers of decision-makers
    • You want to laser focus on particular, known individuals

    A small or narrow audience makes inbound sales techniques tough to leverage effectively.  If you only want to talk to developers who work for streaming music services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music, just reach out to them directly. An audience that tiny brings such low search volume that inbound content will largely go unseen.

    Think about it: you could invest in all of the best practices to improve SEO for a vast inbound content library, but unless there’s a large enough relevant audience, few people will actually read it.  It’s kind of like laying out a five-course banquet to attract that one field mouse. You could invest that time and energy more efficiently by only reaching out directly to relevant people (armed with tightly targeted material). In other words, just walk over and give the mouse the cheese.

    Outbound is also useful for working your way through layers of decision-makers to try and make an enterprise sale.  Inbound isn’t likely to simultaneously catch the attention of — and gradually nurture — every single person on the path to purchase (although it could have kicked off the process). So, reach out and pursue the next level of conversation at each step of the sales cycle yourself.

    Finally, if you’ve got a totally original, unique solution to a problem, odds are folks won’t be looking for it online.  They may not have even imagined the possibility that something like it could exist, which makes it hard to attract inbound leads; there’s no inherent demand to tap into.  The issue is compounded if your solution involves some sort of new terminology that no one’s ever heard of — no one types unfamiliar jargon into their search bar, for example. 

    Instead, you can use outbound sales techniques and advertisements to raise awareness and inform the market about your product.

    How to Bridge Inbound and Outbound Sales

    How to Bridge Inbound and Outbound Sales

    You may already be using a combination of the techniques above, due to the relative advantages of each.  But how can you help them work together?

    It’s not healthy or efficient for the sales department to subdivide itself into two teams: inbound sales vs. outbound sales (marketing and sales have a contentious enough relationship as it is!).  Aligning the two techniques is actually more natural than you may think.

    Align (and Cooperate) On a Shared Target

    Working B2B? Get marketing and sales together to share shortlists of the companies or accounts you’re most interested in attracting.  This will be based on verticals, job titles, company size, regions, and more. B2C? Collaborate on detailed, data-driven buyer personas to set demographic parameters.

    Now marketing can get to work on inbound content and sales enablement resources for sales reps to wield as you attract inbound leads.  At the same time, you can pay for lists of outbound leads that match the same criteria and also start prospecting for matches on social media.

    You’ll have a little something for every possible entry point into your sales funnel, but all customized around the people you want.

    Apply Data Insights In Both Directions

    A data-driven approach is critical to inbound vs. outbound sales success.  Anecdotal stories, gut instincts, and arbitrarily-chosen targets won’t define your true “ideal customer.”  Inbound technology is superb at gathering highly actionable analytics that paint a picture of the people most interested in contacting you (or at least in consuming material related to your solutions).

    You can learn from the data you receive and use it to tweak, refine, and perfect your inbound approach, of course.  But you can also use these insights to create a better understanding of the outbound groups you should be targeting.  The folks who convert on your inbound sales campaigns are likely the same kinds of people who could benefit from direct outreach in an outbound fashion.

    By the same token, your outbound conversations with prospects can serve as a proving ground about whether your inbound techniques really are geared towards the right kind of people. 

    Learn which audiences respond more favorably to your outbound material, and adjust your inbound strategy to focus more closely on those sorts of customers.

    Promote the Language You Want to Use

    Without outbound sales efforts, the conversation has to be initiated by customers. It would be entirely up to prospects to decide how to phrase their search for solutions.  They’d use terminology or language of their own design in online searches, and see what comes up.

    Outbound material can actively establish a language around your product or service.  Choose the language you want your customers to use when they describe your product, service, or solution, then put it into all of your paid promotions.  The public will gradually pick up on your terminology and start using it to search for your inbound content.

    Now you’re appearing higher in search engine results and defining the conversation before it begins.

    Fill In Your Inbound Learning Gaps

    Outbound sales reps are constantly in conversation with your target audience.  Gather insights about the questions they receive most often, or the kinds of objections the frequently face — although there likely isn’t enough information prominently available about these subjects to satisfy your potential customers.  

    With the feedback from outbound, you can create fresh inbound content that will fill in the gaps in your inbound customer’s journey for a smoother path towards a sale.  Or arm sales reps with this content so that they’ve got something helpful to pass on to a prospect the next time they face obstacles in an outbound conversation.

    Outbound Recognition = Inbound Interest

    Especially when your business is young, outbound is a great way to make a splash and create awareness.  Striking outbound campaigns can build recognition over time for your brand, your solution (especially if it’s a new one without established precedents), and the issues you want to talk about. 

    As folks get to know you, you create the trust and interest that will drive them towards your inbound channels. 

    Inbound Sales vs. Outbound Sales: They’re On the Same Team

    Inbound Sales vs. Outbound Sales: They’re On the Same Team

    Inbound and outbound sales are a lot like the offense and defense of an NFL team.  Each side has unique responsibilities and skillsets, but all of the players are working together to help you win.

    When the defense does well, the offense is in a better position to score points.  When the offense does well, there’s less pressure on the defense to win the game. You need both to be a well-rounded contender.

    Use your outbound sales strategy to establish the parameters of the conversation, raise awareness, and reach known, high-value pools of leads.  Complement it with an inbound sales strategy that streamlines the buyer’s journey, builds lasting relationships, and maximizes the bang for your buck.  Together, inbound and outbound sales techniques are greater than the sum of their parts.

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