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

2023-05-11

Failing to increase sales means stagnation, and declining sales can spell doom for your company if you can’t turn it around. To avoid those situations, you need a robust sales strategy, which can be overwhelming if you don’t have a large sales team. Start your strategy by weighing whether you want to prioritize inbound vs. outbound sales.

Smith.ai knows not everyone is a sales expert. Our talented live agents are ready to engage with your leads, whether they come to you or you go to them. We’ve laid out the differences between these two sales strategies so you can craft a plan and get back to running your business.

What is inbound sales?

Inbound sales is a sales strategy in which a lead initiates contact with a business. Maybe they found the company through an online Google search, read its blog, or heard its podcast. Oftentimes consumers willingly give their contact information to the company in return for a resource, such as a webinar or an eBook. This is an inbound lead. They are much more engaged in the process and more likely to convert at the end of the sales cycle.

The inbound sales process looks like this:

  1. The lead reaches out to the company directly.
  2. The sales rep reaches out to the lead through email or phone to learn more about them and establish a personal connection.
  3. The company establishes trust with the lead through thought leadership, recommendations, or advice from the sales rep.
  4. Sales conversations begin.
  5. A deal is negotiated and the lead ultimately becomes a customer.

Inbound sales strategies are generally cost-effective and aligned with the buyer's journey, making them effective for many companies. However, it is a time-intensive process because leads may require a lot of content, events, or website optimization in order to convert, as well as lead nurturing to later turn into customers.

What is outbound sales?

Outbound sales is a strategy in which the business initiates contact with the prospect, offering its services or products through tactics such as cold calling or email marketing. Leads are often less aware of the company and are therefore less likely to convert.

The outbound sales process looks like this:

  1. The sales rep prospects for leads using an ideal customer profile (ICP) and research.
  2. The sales rep contacts a prospect through outbound calling or a similar outreach method, and typically requests a discovery call
  3. The sales rep qualifies the lead.
  4. The sales rep makes a sales pitch to the lead.
  5. A deal is negotiated and the lead eventually becomes a customer.

As long as sales reps prospect thoroughly and outbound sales strategies are highly targeted, it can translate to a quick ROI. However, you often need to perform outreach at scale to see significant results. 

The Difference Between Inound and Outbound Sales


What’s the difference between inbound and outbound sales?

The biggest difference between inbound and outbound sales is how the sales process starts. A prospect comes to the business in inbound sales, while the company reaches out to the prospect in outbound sales. For this reason, inbound and outbound sales reps function differently.

Inbound sales reps focus primarily on the customer. They spend most of their time informing and supporting customers through the sales funnel while still using sales techniques like upselling and probing. The goal is to be a resource while subtly positioning the company’s products as the right fit — until the customer is ready to purchase. 

Outbound sales reps tend to focus on traditional sales strategies like cold calls and emails. Most outbound sales reps need to make multiple efforts to contact and persuade potential leads before ever expecting to make a sale, so you need people willing to front all the effort without an immediate return. The goal is to eventually convert the lead into a customer. The salesperson should stay in control of the process from start to finish. 

Do inbound and outbound sales ever intersect?

Both inbound and outbound sales strategies are highly effective in the right circumstances, which is why it often makes sense to create a sales strategy that utilizes both approaches.

The two processes can work in harmony to create a stronger salesforce. Companies that want to develop great solutions for their customers’ issues often use data from inbound sales teams and feedback from outbound sales reps. Information obtained from inbound sales and marketing is often helpful in shaping the scope for outbound sales campaigns. 

Although they can be extremely beneficial to each other, these two techniques are different and require very different skill sets. Your inbound and outbound sales teams are likely made up of different people.

Deciding which sales process to use or whether to use both depends on the individual business and the type of resources able to be deployed. Many factors affect the decision, like budget, scalability, and business goals. Understanding where your business stands will guide you to the right process(es) for you. 

Effective Inbound vs.Outbound Sales Strategies


6 common inbound sales strategies to implement today

Inbound sales reps need different strategies than outbound sales reps to be successful. Here are six powerful inbound sales strategies you can implement today to convert inbound leads into paying customers.

1. Nurture leads by being buyer-focused

Understand the buyer journey for your customer. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself: 

  • What is the experience like for them?
  • Where do they have a current pain that can be solved? 
  • What materials do they receive from the business, and at what time?
  • How much contact do they have with the business?

Use the answers to those questions to establish a clear buyer’s journey, from the moment they learn about your business to becoming a customer. Then develop a sales process built around them. This personalized approach will leave your customers feeling supported throughout the process, and will help sales reps nurture leads, build relationships, and create loyal customers.

2. Create content that establishes your business as an industry thought leader

Before leads can come to you, they need to know you exist. To expand your brand awareness, participate in the discussions that matter to your industry. There are several ways to do this, including:

  • Publishing blog content
  • Engaging in social media 
  • Hosting a webinar
  • Being featured on a podcast
  • Writing guest posts for industry blogs
  • Speaking at professional events
  • Participating in local networking events

This takes time, but remember to be consistent and highlight your expertise. Over time, you’ll start to see results.

3. Solve the prospect's problem

While you may be proud of the bells and whistles of your latest product, they don’t mean anything to your lead. They may not understand how those features will help them overcome their challenges.

Focus instead on how your product or service can solve the prospect’s problem. Listen carefully to your lead’s pain points, then share case studies or client testimonials. This will help leads envision how the product or service specifically benefits them.

4. Build relationships with customers

Having a relationship with potential customers makes moving them through your sales funnel much easier. Be aware that trust is easily lost. You need to make sure the information you’re providing customers is accurate, that you’re following up on any questions or information they need from you, and that you’re keeping the process easy and pleasant for them. This is why many refer to inbound sales as being customer service-oriented. 

5. Segment your leads

Use your buyer’s funnel, plus other data like demographics, technographics, and customer behavior, to segment your leads into smaller groups. Once you have those smaller groups, engage with the customer using targeted interactions personalized to them. The more personalized the better, since prospects will feel like you are addressing their individual, unique needs 

6. Respond to leads quickly

Thanks to the internet, leads hold a lot of power — if you don’t help them first, they’ll likely reach out to the next business listed on their search results. That’s why response to lead time is a critical factor in converting leads into customers. Research shows that responding to a lead within a minute increases the likelihood they’ll become a customer by almost 400%!

But that doesn’t mean you need to wait by the phone and constantly refresh your computer screen at the expense of doing your actual work. Instead, outsource your lead responses to virtual receptionists

6 common outbound sales strategies for success

Outbound sales strategies rely more on initiating contact with potential customers, so they look slightly different. 

1. Cold call

While cold calling is often mislabeled as a dead sales strategy, it can be quite successful when done correctly — 75% of cold calls motivate a prospect to schedule a meeting or attend an event. You’ll also receive instant feedback from your lead and get valuable information directly from the source.

To see the most success, warm up leads before calling them with other techniques like paid ads, and be prepared with a call script and initial research into your prospect.

2. Send cold emails

Another tried-and-true technique businesses still use is cold emailing. You can contact a vast number of people in just a fraction of the time it would take to call them, but, of course, email has its drawbacks. The feedback you receive from cold emailing is often delayed — if you get any at all.

Using a combination of cold calling and emailing can benefit your business. 

3. Automate your emails

Automating your emails makes it easier to perform outbound marketing at scale. Email automation allows you to set up sequences that follow up with leads automatically and keep contact consistent, giving you a higher chance of success.

Be careful when automating emails, however — you want those emails to tackle time-consuming tasks, but not at the expense of creating a personal relationship. For example, it’s OK to automate an email that reminds your prospect about an upcoming meeting or phone call, but it’s better to reach out personally if the prospect asks a specific question. 

4. Engage in social selling

Social media helps build relationships with inbound leads, but it can also be used as an outreach selling tool. Engage with industry accounts to find new leads and build relationships with them to make them more receptive to a future pitch. Comment on their posts, ask them questions, and share their posts. When ready, approach them via DM to take the conversation offline and see if there’s a potential fit to do business together.

5. Conduct paid advertising

Paid advertising is exactly what it sounds like: paying for an ad. The ad can be in print markets like magazines or newspapers, or online as a banner on a website or a pop-up. In pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, you pay the fee whenever someone clicks on the ad rather than upfront before the ad runs.

6. Attend a trade show

Trade shows bring together a variety of businesses to demonstrate their goods and services to potential customers. Presenting at a trade show can be expensive, but it’s a great way to meet a lot of potential leads in a short amount of time. It’s like a live version of a commercial, but your leads have the chance to interact with you. Just don’t leave without getting contact information from anyone interested in your business.

We can help with your inbound and outbound sales

If you don't have time to complete sales independently but are not ready to hire a dedicated sales team, you may want to consider outsourcing your inbound and outbound sales. Smith.ai can help accelerate your business growth while taking on your inbound and outbound communications. Our responsive live agents can make the connections between your business and prospective clients across multiple platforms.

If you want to learn more about our services, you can book a 30-minute consultation with us to discuss any questions you may have about outsourcing your inbound communication with our virtual receptionists or outbound calling through our sales outreach team.

Tags:
Primary
Sales Tips
Business Education
Lead Generation
Outreach Campaigns
Written by Maddy Martin
Maddy Martin is Smith.ai's SVP of Growth. Over the last 15 years, Maddy has built her expertise and reputation in small-business communications, lead conversion, email marketing, partnerships, and SEO.

Take the faster path to growth.
Get Smith.ai today.

Affordable plans for every budget.

Sign up for our newsletter

By signing up, you agree to receive news & updates from Smith.ai.
Thank you!
Your submission has been received.
Yikes! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Take the faster path to growth.
Get Smith.ai today.

Affordable plans for every budget.