In the way of full disclosure, I started a conference called Outbound. It was a reaction to seeing ads for HubSpot's Inbound Conference. During my time as a salesperson, I was never given an inbound lead. Before there was the internet, there were far fewer opportunities for inbound leads. As an early adopter of the internet, I can assure you there were no lead-capture forms at the beginning.
In this article, we'll look at inbound versus outbound sales, exploring their differences and their similarities. Before we dive in, let me be clear that you should pursue both, even if you prefer one over the other. Both of them help you find opportunities; and the more opportunities you create, the better your sales results.
The difference between inbound sales and outbound sales is that inbound is pull and outbound is push. It is much less difficult to acquire a meeting or a conversation with an inbound lead. The person who needs only answer the phone, or contact a prospective client who has expressed interest through a form, has a less difficult starting point. Sometimes these roles are structured as business development instead of sales.
But if you believe inbound is better than outbound, know that it is difficult to attract the right prospective clients to your website. It can also be difficult to get someone to fill out a form. Anyone who works in an inbound sales role will tell you that marketing produces a lot of false positives.
Outbound sales has never been easy. It is increasingly difficult now, as decision-makers are overwhelmed with work and avoid anyone who they believe might waste their time. The first response to an outbound call is no. It is much more difficult to schedule a first meeting when what you sell isn't the contact’s priority. It can be even more challenging when the company has a contract with your competitor.
Inbound sales is generally less difficult than outbound sales; however, outbound has a high yield with revenue, despite having a low yield for meetings.
The Sales Conversation
Much of the time, an inbound sales approach is executed with an inside sales team. Most of their communication is done using virtual selling and a much larger amount of email than you might find in an outbound sales strategy (although most salespeople rely too heavily on email). There are good reasons to pursue an inbound sales strategy, including covering the world from a single location. Inbound salespeople can create good relationships with their prospective clients. They can also create value in the sales conversation for their prospects and their clients.
Outbound sales strategies are mostly pursued by companies with a full cycle, and the field of salespeople they rely on. The salesperson who shows up for their prospective clients has an asymmetrical advantage over one unable to meet their clients where they live. A certain type of communication comes from showing up. In 2021, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, revealed that his bank lost clients to their competitors during the pandemic. After asking why their former clients had moved to other banks, their clients told him that Dimon’s people didn't show up. When you show up, you prove that you care.
There is variability between different salespeople. Both inbound sales and outbound sales approaches will find that some salespeople are better at the sales conversation than others.
Outbound has an extreme advantage for targeting your dream clients. This advantage is time. A salesperson with an outbound sales strategy can identify the companies they want to pursue and call them directly, making a cold call instead of a warm call. With tools like ZoomInfo, it’s easy to acquire correct emails and phone numbers. The sooner you create an opportunity with a prospective client company, the sooner you win that client.
An inbound sales approach is built on the idea that when the client is interested in talking to you, they will contact you. The inbound communication serves as a trigger event. At one sales kickoff I attended, the inbound team proudly announced that two of their dream clients had filled out a form on their website. The whole team applauded the good news. When I asked how long they had waited for these two large companies, they confessed that they had waited five years. They had an extreme case of call reluctance.
This is the weakness found in an inbound-only approach to sales. The inbound-only sales organization waits. They hope and pray their prospective client finds them and is interested enough to make contact. The outbound salesperson calls and books a first meeting.
You may be asking yourself who are the best salespeople? Both inbound and outbound sales require the salesperson to schedule a meeting. Each approach requires the salesperson to create value for their prospective clients. They both must differentiate themselves, their company, and how they produce the better results their prospective clients need. Despite the approach, buyers are unhappy with the experience of the sales conversation. Any sales organization that hasn't dealt with this challenge will struggle to create and win new deals.
Increasingly, both inbound and outbound sales now find more stakeholders at their meetings. More stakeholders increase the odds that the client will have trouble moving forward. Both inbound and outbound sales will find more of their prospects struggling with the uncertainty that causes them to wait until the environment improves.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, including a higher cost structure of an outbound sales approach being executed by a field sales force. Field salespeople have higher pay rates. They also have travel expenses that can make a field sales force more expensive. But an inbound approach may require leasing an office building, while a field sales force works at home, taking care of their territory.
The decision to pursue one or both approaches is a strategic decision. How you go to market is a variable to your success. Sales strategy isn't what you do—it is what you decide you will not do.