Inbound vs Outbound Sales: What’s Best For You?

Text reading: Inbound vs Outbound Sales - What's Best for You?

Before we get started, let’s define the key difference between inbound vs outbound sales.

Inbound sales are initiated by prospects seeking solutions to their problems.

Typically they do this by searching online or through some form of marketing, and then reach out to a company/service provider.

Illustration of a magnifying glass emphasizing the letters SEO in an internet search bar.

Outbound sales are initiated by salespeople, who contact prospects directly and entice them into a dialogue.

Over time, the predominant model of selling has shifted from outbound to inbound, with the rise of research tools like the Internet and communication channels like email and online forms.

These days, prospects often prefer to research and refine their needs before engaging with salespeople.

So which approach is best, and which will bear more fruit?

It’s an impossible question to answer because markets are always evolving, and various offerings require different approaches.

For example, it’s not effective to use an outbound sales model to sell cars. The industry is built on advertising that attracts inbound leads into dealerships.

Illustration of a car salesman.

Conversely, it’s not effective to try and market highly complicated solutions to major companies to generate inbound leads. The superior model is for salespeople to strategically contact appropriate business leaders and open a dialogue.

Let’s dive deeper into this exciting dichotomy, and help you gain clarity about which model may be right for you as a salesperson, or for your company as a business leader.

Understanding Inbound vs Outbound Sales

Most people think the inbound sales model is superior (and easier) since the leads walk in the door, whereas the outbound sales model is harder because it’s up to the salesperson to do all that initial work.

There is some truth to that sentiment.

As someone who has done both types of sales, I can tell you both are difficult but for very different reasons.

Differences in Leads

Let’s explore the differences in leads and associated challenges with inbound vs outbound sales.

Inbound Leads

Even though inbound sales leads arrive ready for conversations, there are challenges.

The first is that these prospects will have some degree of awareness about their needs and how they believe you can help them.

Early discussions with inbound leads are about building fast relationships, diagnosing challenges and requirements, and determining if you can help.

This can be a tricky process because prospects may have preconceptions about what they think your offering can do for them.

Effective qualification must happen, including determining if timelines and budgets are aligned.

Illustration of a business person balancing time and money considerations.

The second major challenge is that inbound sales are always competitive.

Since prospects are taking the time to educate themselves and identify potential solutions, they are always talking to multiple vendors. 

The obvious pro with inbound vs outbound sales is the ability to have fruitful discussions with warm leads.

However, the pressure is on immediately to both assess the viability of a lead and win their favor.

Outbound Leads

Outbound sales can be daunting.

The biggest challenge with the outbound sales process is the heavy lift required on the front end to contact people cold, capture their interest, and deal with lots of indifference and flat-out rejection.

These days people don’t answer the phone as much as they used to, and everyone is overburdened with email.

Image of a cell phone with an incoming call.

Effective outbound sales reps must persevere and use multiple communication channels to break through, all for just a chance to pitch their offering.

A big pro with outbound sales strategies is that if you can solve a real problem, and you can pitch the correct person, there is a great chance you will have a legitimate sales opportunity, without much (if any) competition.

The Role of Marketing

When it comes to achieving sales targets, marketing strategies are the guiding light. Both inbound and outbound sales rely heavily on great marketing initiatives.

Illustration of a man yelling into a megaphone, with the term "marketing" underneath him.

The rise of the inbound sales process is aligned very closely with marketing.

It’s the efforts of marketing that feed the curiosity of a potential market, and help build brand awareness and eventually trust.

When done correctly, these efforts lead to curious prospects who know the brand and have some confidence.

With the outbound sales strategy, marketing also plays a crucial role.

Marketing supports the outbound sales process through assets and materials that contribute to confidence and trust building after sales conversations have been initiated.

Imagine you are a prospect. You get a call from a slick salesperson and everything sounds interesting… with high-quality marketing materials after the meeting, your impression of the sales rep and company grows.

Content Marketing’s Influence

Content is king – there’s no denying that.

Creating content that resonates with your target audience plays a pivotal role.

This means articles, studies, high-quality blog posts, and other forms of content that help prospects know about business challenges, along with your solutions.

The approach of educating a market not only establishes sales reps as experts within their field but also helps prospects self-identify that they may need to explore.

Leveraging Social Media

Social media platforms have become a key tool in shaping successful sales strategies.

With billions of users worldwide, they offer vast opportunities for businesses to reach potential customers.

Illustration of the LinkedIn logo.

Social media can be leveraged with inbound sales strategies to build trust with your audience by sharing valuable content and engaging with followers.

This approach aims at attracting or pulling prospects rather than pushing them into buying something.

On the flip side, outbound sales strategies often incorporate these platforms as well – but from a different angle.

Here, the outbound sales team actively reaches out to their target audience through sponsored posts or direct messaging, instead of waiting for customers to find them organically.

Email Marketing – Still Relevant!

Email marketing can support both inbound and outbound sales strategies.

For outbound sales reps, the objective is to capture interest and start a conversation with potential buyers.

For inbound sales and marketing, email is used to nurture leads.

Often prospects will connect with vendors prematurely, so long-tail campaigns can be used to keep you top of mind for when they are ready to buy.

Illustration of a man with a megaphone sitting on an email message.

7 Inbound vs Outbound Sales Process Considerations

The sales strategies, approach, and associated skills are in some ways very different between inbound vs outbound sales, but there is also major crossover.

Most experienced sales reps will have experience with both models.

Let’s walk through the various phases of a typical sales process, and explore these differences and similarities.

Illustration of a sales funnel.

Of note, the sales process can be a winding road that doesn’t always follow this tidy step-by-step structure.

1. Prospecting/Lead Generation

Interestingly, inbound and outbound sales strategies differ most at the front end of the sales process.

Inbound Sales Prospecting

As you know, this model involves working with leads that come in via marketing channels.

Depending on the sophistication of the selling organization, leads will be processed in different ways.

Some companies will hand leads over and let sales reps pursue and nurture them into meetings.

A better approach is to have automated email sequences and appointment setters that reach out to inbound leads, so sales reps can focus on sales conversations. 

Illustration of an appointment setter working at a computer with a headset on. Her role is more appropriate for inbound vs outbound sales opportunities.

Regardless of who is following up to book meetings, they need to be consistent and persistent.

Of note, many inbound leads will be premature so there can be a lot of flakey prospects that don’t move beyond initial interest.

Outbound Sales Prospecting

For the outbound sales team, there is no such infrastructure!

Hopefully, their company has a strategy for going to the market they can follow, plus tools including contact databases or social networks.

Key attributes outside sales reps need are commitment, perseverance, and a thick skin.

It can be tough spending your days reaching out with little success, but there are advantages to this approach… 

2. First Contact

First-contact conversations are very different between inbound and outbound sales.

Inbound Sales

With inbound sales leads, generally, the first contact is to schedule a deeper meeting at a convenient time in the future.

In some cases, the first contact may blossom into a phase 3 (qualification) meeting on the spot.

Outbound Sales

The first contact in outbound sales is very different.

Often, the initial response you will get from people is frosty and impatient. The reality is they weren’t expecting your call, and don’t realize how badly they need your solution (yet!).

Learning how to open a cold call is important. Read this to learn my simple process.

Once your cold call is through the initial phase, you can begin to share details about how your product or solution can address a problem. Most business problems fall into one of three main categories.

3. Qualification

Remember that the sales process steps can bleed together, with qualification also often leading right into discovery/needs assessment.

Inbound Sales Qualification

Initial qualification with inbound leads will often happen via email or in the appointment setting call.

Prospects may ask questions, or share information they want you to know before the first proper meeting.

Once into that longer qualification/discovery meeting, it’s about connecting with the prospect, asking open-ended questions to learn about their situation, and why they decided to contact you.

When selling inbound, I have about 2-dozen questions that I want answers for.

However, I never grill my prospect. Instead, I take a conversational approach so I can begin to build trust and nurture the budding relationship.

My goal in this call is to understand and entice the prospect, build a strong connection, qualify them in or out, and advance the sale to the next step.

Outbound Sales Qualification

With outbound sales, often the first contact discussion will lead right into qualification.

The cold call starts with your opener, then your pitch and explanation for why you called.

Often, this will flow naturally into a high-level qualification discussion about viability.

This is where things can start to get exciting for outbound sales reps!

Sure, it’s tough knocking on all those doors, but once you have someone and they are curious and qualified, you can lead them through the rest of the sales process. 

4. Discovery/Needs Assessment

Discovery/needs assessment is where things start to go deeper, regardless of the selling model.

Inbound Sales Discovery

This is the step of the inbound sales process when things start to get challenging.

Because inbound sales prospects have done some self-diagnosis and know about a problem, they will often have a list of requirements and maybe even a budget.

At this stage, they are attempting to commodify vendors and solutions so they can avoid an apples to oranges comparison.

Illustration of apples and oranges being compared.

Sales reps must work to differentiate from the competition, and demonstrate value that may not be apparent at first glance.

If you don’t fit into the preliminary budget, you must work hard to convince them why your offering should still be considered.

This is done through effective questioning, active listening, providing insights, and seeking to understand what the most important decision-making criteria are.

This is also the time to be realistic about your chances of winning. Should you continue investing time with this prospect?

At this stage, there may also be some tension regarding how the sales process should unfold, with the prospect wanting a similar process with all vendors.

Outbound Sales Discovery

Alternatively, deeper discovery with outbound sales leads is more collaborative.

Prospects are now intrigued by the ways you can potentially help them.

They are more trusting because unlike with the inbound sales process, you approached them and have presented a solid business case.

They are inclined to want to participate in your fact-finding, to determine if they can benefit from your offerings.

Many of the same skills are required as inbound, including effective questioning, active listening, sharing insights, and identifying decision-making criteria and processes.

With this model, you are in control of the sales process and must lead confidently.

5. Presentation/Demo

The presentation phase is the main event for your product or service, but how you conduct the meeting will be very different between the models.

Inbound Sales Presentations

The prospect will tell you they want to see your product and learn all about it.

They’ll want to see how you do x, y, and z, and yes, you will need to show them.

However, at the core, they want to know, “Will your product satisfy my main requirements and solve my key problems?”

Illustration of a man in front of a whiteboard, presenting.

Don’t get it twisted, the presentation is not about you, your company, or your product.

The presentation is about first, ensuring the prospect knows that you understand their problems, and second, that you can solve these problems with your solution and organizational commitment.

You need to beat all the other vendors at convincing them of these 2 things, and you do so within the context of showing off your product.

Outbound Sales Presentations

Outbound sales prospects who make it to the presentation/demo phase are keen to learn more. 

Oftentimes additional stakeholders will get involved at this stage, and some may be more skeptical. However, they are attending and in most cases are open to being convinced.

Illustration of people appearing on laptop screen, attending a video meeting.

Unlike inbound presentations where it’s critical to address the prospect’s stated requirements, in outbound, it’s critical to tie your solution to the insights you have into your prospects’ business problems.

Remember, you called them and intrigued them by sharing information on problems they weren’t aware of.

Your presentation is the time to highlight those problems, combined with what you have learned about them, to provide a pitch that makes business sense.

Your presentation should land well and have a captive audience if you prepared properly.

6. Objection Handling

Objection handling principles are similar between the sales models, in that you need to identify and address them effectively before you can close any sale.

However, the typical objections you will encounter will be very different with inbound and outbound sales.

Inbound Sales Objections

Inbound sales objections will cover the spectrum but often will center around how your solution matches up with their critical requirements.

From the onset of the sales process, it’s important to identify those requirements and learn which are most important.

By the time you get to the presentation/demo, you should be confident that you can address critical needs.

The inbound sales process also demands ongoing qualification, to ensure you stay on top of shifting criteria, timeline changes, and any other developments. 

Outbound Sales Objections

With outbound sales, the objections will often center around challenges related to budgeting and prioritizing an unexpected initiative.

Businesses like to plan projects and associated purchases.

An unexpected initiative, even an extremely worthwhile one, is going to be a challenge to shoe-horn into an existing budget and priority list.

Illustration of a business women, being pitched on projects and indicating she is overwhelmed.

You can also expect price objections and demands for deliverables, among others.

7. Closing

I’ve written a lot about closing, including this article on millions of closing techniques (actually just 19 of my favs).

Regardless of the sales model, closing is pretty much the same.

I recommend introducing the assumptive closing strategy early in your dealings with prospects.

The key difference between the inbound vs outbound sales models is that sometimes savvy inbound prospects will play vendors against each other, to try and get the best deal possible.

Check out this article on inbound sales closing for tips and strategies to win in competitive situations.

So, Which Sales Model Is Better?

The truth is, neither approach is inherently superior.

It depends on a myriad of factors such as your product/service, the pain it addresses, the market’s awareness of that pain and your solution type, the predominant sales model in your space, and many more factors.

A hybrid sales strategy that leverages both inbound and outbound methods could be the best approach for most businesses.

As for the salesperson, the question is, do you prefer to avoid the grunt work and rejection on the front end in favor of more challenges later on?

I’ve done both and personally prefer inbound, but I’m glad I have experience with both models. It’s something I recommend to salespeople who are early in their careers.

As you now know, both models have their pros and cons, so it’s up to you to consider which makes the most sense for you.


How do outbound and inbound sales strategies differ in generating leads?

Inbound marketing programs pull in prospects by effectively broadcasting value, insight, and product/service details.

Outbound sales efforts are about pushing out messages of insight, unknown problems customers may be experiencing, and associated solutions, to unsuspecting potential buyers.

Both strategies involve a solution to a problem, with different methods for making the customer aware.

Why is the inbound sales model gaining popularity?

Many believe that buyers prefer to buy this way

The information age empowered buyers to learn about problems faster and investigate solutions themselves.

The internet and now AI tools have further advanced these capabilities.

Many buyers want vendors to demonstrate their understanding of problems and provide details on their solutions and value before they are willing to engage with salespeople.

Will outbound sales die off?

No chance! There are 2 key advantages to the outbound model that won’t ever go away.

First, if your timing is right you can catch buyers when they know there is a problem, yet before they have done much research and gone to market for a solution.

Second, in cases where the buyer isn’t aware of the problem you solve, you can sweep in as the business savant to educate them, and the savior that can then help them.

Why do people hate outbound cold calling?

The short answer is almost all people hate rejection, regardless of how much we try and tell ourselves otherwise.

When you are in an outbound sales role, you are going to face massive rejection.

You need to build the skills and capabilities to handle cold calls in the field, through failure and adaptation, which is a painful process.


2 major selling models, and a big decision for you.

If you’re reading this, you dove deep into the intricacies and now understand how each model plays a unique role in driving business.

You’ve learned the role of marketing. You’ve dissected how each step of the sales process varies between outbound and inbound sales.

If you’re a salesperson, it’s time to decide what model makes the most sense for you.

If you’re a business owner/operator, it’s time to decide if you’re committed to supporting an inbound model with investments in marketing, or whether you like the idea of a sales team of outbound callers.

Remember – blending these two models can supercharge your business for maximum results, but it takes effort and commitment.