Inbound vs. Outbound Sales: Sales Approaches Teams Need to Know

Sean Lund-Brown

With modern sales going through tremendous changes, adaptability will keep your sales team up to date. To give your team what it needs to increase sales, start with the inbound versus outbound approach to selling. But first, your team needs to know what that means and how you can implement different techniques to get the best results within your business.

The first thing your team needs to understand is that we constantly sell — usually without even realizing it. We sell ourselves when we're trying to get a new job or promotion, we sell when we're getting people to volunteer, and we're even selling an idea when we're pitching a new concept to a difficult client.

But for those of us who aren't making sales in a traditional sense, it can be challenging to know how to approach sales and what will get us the best results. So, here are a few questions your team will have and the answers you need to guide them.  

What Is outbound selling?

The easiest way to think about these two sales techniques is to understand what makes them different. The most significant difference is the person who starts the conversation between the business and the potential customer.

Outbound sales — which you could also think of as more traditional selling — is when the business/sales representative reaches out to a potential customer first. The sales rep must use techniques to gauge whether a likely lead could turn into a customer.

Common outbound sales tactics

Outbound sales often use techniques like cold-calling and cold-emailing and honestly get a terrible rep in the sales world. We likely have all received a typical phone call from someone who has no emotion, no understanding of who we are, and is only interested in selling us something. We’ve probably also received a cold email that goes straight into the spam file and has been copied and pasted to hundreds of unknowing recipients.

So, it’s no wonder that outbound sales have people hanging up or deleting emails over the years, but trust that there is an effective way of completing outbound sales. There is a reason these techniques have stood the test of time; businesses still use outbound sales today because, frankly, they work. Developing a solid brand identity that allows you to rely solely upon inbound sales is a difficult thing to achieve, so it’s no surprise that companies are still implementing this traditional process.

The most important thing is to understand the strategy behind outbound sales. The salespeople with a successful outbound sales strategy say that it’s crucial to how their business sells.

What is inbound selling?

The other technique we are going to discuss is using inbound sales. As we discussed before, the difference between the two is about who makes the first contact. So, with inbound sales, it’s the potential customer who approaches the business.

The general idea behind inbound selling is helping to guide prospects through your sales funnel, where they can identify the issues and challenges they face and the best course of action to solve them. The sales rep’s role here is to educate and support the potential customer in making the right decision for their business, which, hopefully, is to buy your product or service.

Your company may choose to use an inbound sales process for similar reasons to adopt an inbound marketing technique. The leads you’ll be generating will be better qualified for your product/service because they have already decided they’re looking for what you offer. You could say that it makes your job as a sales representative easier because the leads are already at the point of buying, which means you’re much more likely to get a return on your time investment when dealing with inbound leads than when dealing with outbound leads.

Now, as you can imagine, it’s hard to first develop the kind of recognition you need to purely rely on inbound sales. It takes enormous brand awareness and trust to take a step back from your sales and allow the customers and revenue to find you. This is why some businesses use a combination of inbound and outbound.

What Is the difference between outbound and inbound sales?

As already established, the significant difference between inbound and outbound sales is who initiates the first contact between the business and the potential customer. The inbound sales are leaning more into the marketing side and allowing customers to come to them. Potential customers don’t necessarily know the brand or the product or service you offer, but they have established a pain point they need solving, and they believe you can solve their problem.

According to Salesforce and Publicis Sapient, at least 87% of consumers start their searches online. Businesses using inbound sales techniques can take advantage of this behavior and attract the attention of these potential customers with inbound marketing.

Outbound sales, however, is a sales effort, not a marketing effort. The company uses persuasion techniques to persuade leads to make a purchase. The prospective clients they’re contacting may or may not have expressed previous interest in the company’s products or services.

Both sales techniques could potentially deal with the same customers; however, they may be at a different awareness stage, depending on which sales process they are using. According to a model promoted by Eugene Schwartz, author of the classic copywriting book “Breakthrough Advertising,” consumers move through five stages of awareness—generally speaking.

5 awareness stages of consumers

Let’s look at the five awareness stages and what they mean for our sales process:

1. Unaware

At this stage, consumers have yet to recognize they are experiencing a problem. On some occasions, the consumer may be aware of the problem, but they haven’t acknowledged it enough to be questioning it.

This is the stage where your business may begin an outbound sales funnel. The consumer may be contacted randomly by businesses offering their product or service and trying to gauge whether they are potentially dealing with a problem they are yet to be aware of.

2. Problem aware

Here, consumers have acknowledged the issue, but they still don’t know what to do about it. This is potentially where consumers begin their online search, which means they may come across companies’ inbound marketing and start an inbound sales funnel.

3. Solution aware

This is where consumers are most likely to initiate contact with a business because they know what issue they would like to solve and how they can solve it. The only thing they are missing is to understand specifically what products or services will help them, so they may contact companies at this stage seeking further understanding.

4. Product aware

At this stage, the consumer knows the issue they are experiencing, what they need to do, and has a specific product or service they know will solve it. When a prospective client has initiated contact with a company, they use an inbound sales technique to help educate and support the client to get to this stage.

5. Most aware

That brings us to the final stage, where the consumer has all the information they need to decide, putting them at the most likely point of purchasing. It’s, of course, an option that consumers may purchase at an earlier stage. Still, more cautious consumers or those looking for a higher ticket product or service will wait until this stage to purchase with confidence.

Qualifying your lead

As you may already notice, this process can be extremely time-consuming when using outbound and inbound sales processes. No matter the stage of awareness of who initiates contact, both methods must nurture their leads. It’s completely inefficient to nurture every lead, especially when most businesses and sales reps know that only a small percentage of their leads will become customers.

Many businesses will establish qualification criteria that allow them to put the time and effort into the leads that are most likely to become customers and those who will be the most valuable to the company. Each company’s qualification criteria will vary for many reasons, and it all depends on the types of products/services they offer. For example, if you supply only to a certain area, then one of your qualifying criteria would be the location of the lead.

Lead qualification could differ for inbound sales versus outbound sales. An inbound sales team may first need to qualify whether the lead needs the specific services or products they offer, especially if the consumer has initiated contact while in the problem or solution awareness stage.

An outbound sales team might need to carry out multiple follow-ups to establish different potential clients qualifying criteria. With many consumers starting out as completely unaware, the outbound sales team may call back after allowing the prospective customer some time to decide if they are dealing with the issue the company is trying to solve or if they have the budget for a solution.

Do inbound and outbound sales ever intersect?

Many businesses use both sales processes to develop a consistent and successful strategy. 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. The two processes can work in harmony to create a great sales strategy.

If you’re looking at using both techniques, it’s worth being mindful that although they can be extremely beneficial to each other, they are different techniques and require very different skill sets. Your inbound sales team and your outbound sales team are likely to be made up of different people.

You could think of inbound sales reps as being more customer service-oriented. They spend most of their time informing and supporting the customers through the sales funnel while still using sales techniques like upselling and probing.

On the other hand, your outbound sales team will need the ability to deal with lots of rejection and be great at problem-solving because the world of outbound sales is tough. 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 who are willing to front all the effort without an immediate return.

Deciding which sales process to use or whether to use both depends on the individual business. Many factors affect the decision, like budget, scalability, and goals. Understanding where your business stands will guide you into choosing the right processes for you. For many businesses who haven’t fully established their brand awareness, using a combination of inbound and outbound sales will give the best results.

Inbound sales strategies you should be implementing

By now, we should have established how crucial inbound sales are in the modern business world. How we sell and how people buy have changed. There is so much information available for consumers that the power is often in their hands, which is why businesses are spending their time on inbound sales and allowing their customers to come to them.

This isn’t just good news for consumers; it’s great for your business as well. Not only are you making new revenues by bringing in new clients, but you’re also increasing the efficiency of your sales team and creating a stronger alignment between your sales and marketing department. Overall, this can be great for building your customer relationships and increasing your customer retention, so it’s a win-win.

Set a clear buyer persona

When implementing an inbound sales process, your first aim is to ensure your sales team is clear on your various buyer personas. Without an accurate buyer persona, you’re left with a team creating content for consumers they don’t fully understand. This makes it extremely difficult to understand how you’ll educate and support those consumers through the buying process.

Your business will have multiple buyer personas that outline all the relevant details about your prospective clients. It will give your sales reps information, such as the pain points your ideal clients are dealing with, the budget they are working with, and what a normal day may look like for them. This information can be crucial for your sales reps to keep their approach to potential clients personal. Your sales reps can use data and feedback directly from consumers to understand their pain points and allow your company to better cater to their needs.

MQL to SQL

At initial contact, each lead is known as a marketing qualified lead (MQL). This means they have already shown an interest in your company and the solution you’re offering. If these leads move through your sales funnel and continue to show interest in your company and solution, they become a sales qualified lead (SQL).

How to turn SQLs to customers

Once your consumers are at the SQL stage, they are ready for your inbound sales team to convert them into customers.

Your clients may well have come to you, but that doesn’t necessarily make the sale easier for your reps. It is very easy to lose a sale through misinformation, poor customer service, or an impersonal experience for your client. Your inbound sales reps need to have skills and techniques they can use to persuade these prospective clients into taking the plunge and making a sale.

Always sell the benefits, not the features

Your customers are individuals, and while multiple customers may be interested in the same product/service, that doesn’t mean they want the same thing. Helping the customer visualize how the product or service will benefit them specifically and seeing it in their situation is a real skill your sales reps need.

Your product’s features are facts and will be the same for different people, so how is that going to appeal to the individual and convince them that your product is what is going to solve their pain point? You need to get to the root of your prospective customer’s pain point and explain your product’s benefits and how it applies to their situation. Essentially, how is it going to help them?

It may be worth mentioning overall information about your business, including additional features or company reputation/history, to ease worries that customers may have when working with a company they are unfamiliar with. When next working with a prospective client, keep the benefits at the forefront of your pitch and do your best to tailor them to the consumer’s pain points.

Build relationships with potential customers

This might not seem like a sales technique, but building relationships makes all the difference in modern sales. The vast amounts of information and options online for consumers can leave them confused and spoiled for choice. It’s hard to know which products are worth the money and what will give them the results they are looking for. Building relationships between your leads and the sales representatives help the customer build trust and believe in the company, which makes them trust the product or service you’re selling.

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

Keep your questions open

When you’re developing a relationship with your customers, it’s important to get to the bottom of their pain points and gain a deep understanding of what they need and how you’re best going to serve them. The easiest way to do this is by keeping your questions open and allowing the conversation to flow. You can still lead the conversation without constantly talking because that can very easily take a turn into a hard sales pitch, which is not the point of inbound sales.

Get your customers talking openly and thinking out loud because that’ll allow you to form your closing pitch that is personalized to them and will motivate them to make a purchase.

Overcoming resistance from potential customers

Overcoming resistance from potential customers is an excellent skill for inbound and outbound sales. You’re likely to come against some resistance even when a client comes to you, and your sales reps need to know how to approach each challenge they face. Being able to talk through a reservation with the customer and redirect their attention to the value of your offering and how it will benefit them and solve their pain points is a critical skill that will help your team make more sales.

Your inbound sales team has an advantage when preparing for any challenges that may come up. That’s because they have a deeper understanding of the clients in the first place, so they can anticipate what their reservations may be and how to work around them.

The buyer’s journey should be the first thing in development

Most businesses work on their sales process and have a clear idea of how they’ll bring in leads and generate revenue; they don’t spend much time thinking about what it would be like on the receiving end of their outbound and inbound sales strategy. This can lead to the process feeling impersonal to the client.

As we have mentioned several times throughout this article, your customers should feel supported throughout your sales process. They also should be building a relationship with your brand if you’re looking to bring in repeat customers.

To avoid overlooking your sales strategy, you should develop your buyer journey first. For example:

● What is the experience like for your customer?

● What materials do they receive from your business, and at what time?

● How much contact do they have with your business?

When you’ve established a thorough buyer journey from the moment that they learn about your business to becoming a customer, you’re now ready to develop a sales process. That will keep your sales process aligned and personal to your customers and help set you apart from other businesses.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to start implementing these inbound strategies to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward, developing those customer relationships, and bringing in that repeat revenue.

Outbound strategies you should be implementing

Outbound sales are hard; let’s just get that out there. You need a team of highly resilient sales reps who are happy to take on the daunting task of contacting and trying to build relationships with strangers. Similar to inbound sales, having an idea of who you’re contacting is going to help you keep your pitch a little less “cold.”

Of course, you won’t have the time or information available to build in-depth buyer profiles, but what you can do is have an ideal client in mind for your business. That will help you quickly determine if the people you’re talking to are remotely qualified for what you’re offering. If not, you know that you can end your pitch without wasting any more of your time or the people you’re contacting.

Cold calling

Cold calling is a staple technique for outbound departments, and the reason for that is, even now, in a transformed sales world, cold-calling works. You can pair cold calling with other techniques that help warm up leads before calling them, and as long you go about things in the right way, cold calling can be effective.

You can receive instant feedback and get valuable information directly from the source.

Cold emailing

Another tried-and-tested technique that 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 cold call, but, of course, it 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 businesses.

Email automation

Linking to the last two techniques is a great way to begin scaling your outreach when your business is ready. Email automation allows you to set up sequences that follow up with leads automatically and keep contact consistent and regular with potential leads, giving you a higher chance of success.

Outbound sales techniques have been around for as long as most of us have been in business. If you have abandoned any of these tactics, it may be time to dust off the phone and begin cold calling potential clients.

How to track the progress of your outbound sales process

Your techniques may not be new, but it’s worth looking at how you track your process and optimize your strategy with effective technology stacks. When tracking your outbound sales process, there are four main indicators (and our bonus indicator) to be aware of:

1. Sales cycle time

Sales cycle time shows the average time it takes for a lead to finish the buyer journey before making a purchase. This can help you monitor how long your sales reps spend on each lead and what return that is bringing.

2. Cost per opportunity

Cost per opportunity shows how much it costs you to generate a single lead, and your sales reps should focus on the higher value leads to deliver a better ROI.

3. Click-through rates

Click-through rates measure how efficient your call-to-action messaging is. If your click-through rate is low, it deems the effort you’re making when reaching out is pointless and suggests your approach may need tweaking.

4. Calls-to-close ratio

A call-to-close ratio shows the average number of calls a sales rep must make for one to result in a closed purchase. This will help measure your sales reps against each other and understand the most effective team members.

Outbound sales can be costly and time-consuming, so make sure you’re tracking multiple metrics that will allow you to create an effective strategy that gets you the best ROI (return on investment).

Bonus: Be adaptable to encourage growth

Adaptability will be the best thing for your outbound strategy because the change in sales is constant. Buyer behavior is constantly changing, so measuring and improving techniques and tools will be by far your most important asset.

Growlabs CEO Ben Raffi outlines the way to expansive growth through a scalable outbound process. He mentions that market segmentation and tailored messaging are the two main ways that allow growth. Raffi outlines the process of scaling your business through your outbound strategy as follows:

1. Identify your most attractive markets via market segmentation.

2. Establish a clear, value-based hypothesis that will guide the segmentation.

3. Generate customer data and insights.

4. Analyze data and group customers into ICPs (ideal client profiles).

5. Evaluate each segment’s attractiveness.

6. Find leads in each micro-segment.

There is the real science behind outbound sales, and despite popular opinion, it’s not going anywhere.

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, it may be time to outsource your inbound and outbound sales. Smith.ai, a virtual receptionist company, can help accelerate your business growth while taking on your inbound and outbound communications. We have responsive live agents who can make the connections between your business and your prospective clients across multiple different platforms.

We act on every lead that comes your way professionally and efficiently, so you don't have to. We can weed out clients who don't fit your ideal client with our lead screening/intake service, and we can pass on consumers that check all the boxes. We can help to save you precious time in the sales process.

Our tools can integrate seamlessly with your technology and have a profile for your business that allows you to see and track the data from your leads. Visualize the big picture with accurate metrics that will enable you to predict your business growth, costs, and ROI.

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 and outbound communications or any of our other services, which include:

24/7 answering services

24/7 website chat

Appointment scheduling

Warm phone transfers

After-hours answering

You can also review our general pricing, which comes with a 14-day, money-back guarantee. Feel free to call or text us at (650) 727-6484 or email us at hello@smith.ai. You can also chat with us live right here on the site 24/7. Take control of your business growth and contact us today.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

Try Smith.ai now

Accelerate growth with live receptionists and AI. Get started risk-free for 14 days!

Accelerate growth with live chat agents and AI. Get started risk-free for 14 days!

GEt Started NOWGEt Started NOW

Contact our sales team today at (650) 727-6484 or schedule a call.

sign up for our newsletter

Thank you!
Your submission has been received.
Yikes! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Categories