Sales training

Inbound vs. Outbound Sales | How to choose your path

Team Satellite
January 23, 2023

Trying to decide between inbound vs. outbound sales? You don’t have to. 

Think of the inbound and outbound approaches as push and pull. Outbound involves pushing product information to your target audience while inbound involves pulling new customers in with the use of content. No matter which method you choose, you’re still creating motion between your company and potential customers. 

What is inbound sales? 

Inbound sales is when the sales process is initiated by a consumer interacting with the brand’s content (typically online). 

Have you ever been casually scrolling through social media only to find yourself hours deep in a rabbit hole of content? You might’ve started off listening to a podcast or clicking on a video. But then you connected to a piece of the content that addressed an interest or issue of yours, and everything snowballed. You’ve become a detective through google searches. You’re subscribing to newsletters, reading specific blog posts, and following new accounts. Next thing you know, you’re reaching out to sales reps or typing in your credit card information to complete a purchase. 

If that’s ever happened to you, and I am sure it has, then you’ve participated in an inbound sale. 

Inbound sales plays the long game. It follows a potential customer throughout their journey by creating a relationship between the customer and the content being produced. This approach lets the customers connect with a brand on their own terms over a period of time. The customer is the one taking the initiative to reach out to a company to help them solve their problem or need. 

Who is your ICP (ideal customer profile)?

Creating an inbound sales strategy relies on understanding the personas or ICP (ideal customer profile) of your target audience. Ask yourself: 

  • How do they interact with content? 
  • Where do they spend their time online?
  • What problems are they trying to solve? 
  • How can you alleviate their problem? 

Inbound sales attracts leads through campaign marketing, content strategy and brand awareness. If you’re working from the inbound sales approach, aim to build trust over time with your target audience as they make their way through your marketing funnel. Keep your content consistent, up to date and interactive with users so they stay engaged. A major goal of an inbound strategy is to position your brand as an authority on a given topic so that when your audience has questions on that topic, they trust and turn to you for the answer. 

What does inbound sales look like for an SDR?

In inbound sales, the SDR (sales development representative) or BDR (business development representative) is the connector between the brand’s content and potential customers. They will help nurture the relationship with the prospects by maintaining consistent contact, providing open availability for assistance and being able to pique the users dynamic interests throughout the customer journey. 

The SDR is typically the first human contact a prospect will make a connection with while moving through the customer journey. Their job isn’t to close out a sale, but to qualify and guide the user to the point of meeting with an account executive. 

What is outbound sales? 

Outbound sales is when the sales process is initiated by the brand or specifically a salesperson reaching out to potential customers. 

Instead of waiting for customers to seek out your product or services, outbound sales casts a wide net over a large audience before they’ve shown interest. 

Imagine you’re driving down the highway and you see a billboard for a new gym that just opened. You see it, but you don’t think too much of it. Later on you check your mail and there’s a voucher that gives you a discount on your first month as a member for that same gym. You still don’t act on it, but you make the connection that you’ve heard of it before. A little bit of time has passed and a friend brings up wanting to get a gym membership. You think back to that billboard and the coupon you got in the mail, so you decide to get a membership at this gym with your friend. 

Whereas inbound sales pulls consumers to their brand through content marketing, outbound sales pushes their brand onto their target audiences. In this example, the consumer was exposed multiple times to the brand without seeking the information on their own.

What does outbound sales look like for an SDR?

An SDR or BDR working in outbound sales has a stronger role in performing cold outreach. This type of approach requires specific research in finding what type of audience might be interested in their company’s products or services. Rather than nurturing contacts being made with the brand, an outbound sales SDR will reach out to prospects who match the brand’s ICP and create interest to learn more about their offerings.

Similarly to inbound sales, the SDR’s main role is to guide the leads to a sales representative.  

What are some key differences between inbound and outbound sales? 

The Who: An easy way to differentiate inbound vs. outbound sales is by identifying who makes first contact. With the inbound approach, the consumer will reach out to a company on their own after cultivating a relationship with its brand and content. Outbound sales are initiated by the company itself to try and reel in consumers. 

The What: Another way to tell the difference between the two approaches is based on what is at the center of the messaging. Outbound sales is more focused on promoting a brand or product whereas inbound sales is centered around connecting with a consumer who is looking to solve a problem.

The When: The different approaches produce results at different times throughout the customer journey. Outbound tactics tend to be immediate while inbound tactics are strategized holistically over time. This makes inbound sales easier when it comes to tracking along the market strategy whereas outbound sales aren’t as clearly quantifiable. 

The Where: While outbound sales can be done both offline and online, a major component of inbound sales is that it's all online. Being online gives users the power to connect on their own terms, but being both on and offline covers more ground. 

The How: Inbound and outbound sales also differ in the tactics they use to connect with consumers. If you’re taking the inbound approach, you’ll think more holistically about the customer’s journey throughout the entire sales plan and prepare accordingly for when they make contact. For the outbound approach, you’ll take more immediate action through an outreach plan. 

What are the similarities between inbound and outbound sales? 

The Why: The purpose of strategizing a sales approach is the same for both inbound and outbound. There needs to be contact between a company and potential users. Companies have a product or service they can offer, and consumers have a problem they need solved, whether they know it or not. Both approaches also give the company an opportunity to generate brand awareness while learning more about their consumers. Even if they have low engagement with their approach, that still gives them consumer insight on how to move forward in reaching their goals. 

When/how to use inbound? 

What business outcomes are they looking for?

  • Creating and standardizing your company’s customer journey plan or marketing funnel 
  • Implementing tracking methods  

This customer is: 

  • a person with a problem that needs to be solved 
  • generally in the younger market or someone with an online presence 
  • searching for a reliable solution from someone they trust 

Taking the inbound sales approach is optimal for companies with enough time to put in the prep work and play the long game. Inbound sales requires a significant amount of content creation and then time and research to determine what content performs the best at attracting potential customers.

When/how to use outbound? 

What business outcomes are they looking for?

  • Reaching specific customers within a region 
  • Building brand awareness 
  • Creating immediate results 

This customer is: 

  • someone that follows a routine 
  • reachable outside of their online activity 
  • a part of a specific regional audience 

Taking an outbound approach is optimal for companies who need to build lead pipeline and produce revenue in the short term. It requires knowing who your buyers are and understanding what their pain points are and being able to clearly articulate how your product is an ideal solution. Skilled sales development team members such as SDRs, BDRs, and MDRs are critical to an outbound sales strategy.

Is inbound or outbound right for your business?

Of course there are further questions to be asked the deeper you go into each strategy.

Is inbound sales cheaper than outbound? If you have the time to invest in it, inbound sales can be less expensive, but it takes time. Cost effectiveness with outbound sales comes from knowing your audience and leveraging skilled sales development team members.

Is inbound sales easier than outbound sales? This is both a yes and a no. While there’s less risk, the inbound approach requires a lot of maintenance, consistent monitoring, and is significantly slower than outbound. 

What are examples of inbound and outbound marketing?

Inbound: organic social media, podcasts, videos, blogs, webinars, search engine results (SEO), influencers, native marketing, guide books, tutorials, newsletters

Outbound: cold calling, cold emails (emails to non-subscribers), paid social, display ads, billboards, TV commercials, events, direct mail, radio, newspaper  

At the end of day, there’s really no right or wrong answer on which approach to choose. The best option is to follow what works, and sometimes that means taking both approaches at varying degrees. 

The key is to know your audience and their behavior. Think about how they act and would engage with your content. Then work in the needs of your company. Do you have the time to build a relationship with your users or do you need immediate results? Does it make more sense for your company to promote in a digital space? Is your team big enough to handle consistent maintenance and monitoring? Meet your customer’s needs within your capacity and test what works. 

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Article Author
Team Satellite
This article has been developed in a collaboration across various members of the Satellite Team. Our team is made up of experts with years of experience in sales and business. We are all committed to helping professionals launch new or advance existing sales careers and helping companies to build and scale top-performing GTM and revenue teams.

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