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The Great Debate: Inbound Sales vs Outbound Calls - Which is Better?

headshot of Sidney Jones
Sidney Jones
June 7, 2024
Inbound vs Outbound graphic. A blaring bullhorn that symbolizes outbound is held up against a magnet, that symbolizes inbound.

No matter how charming or well-spoken you are as a salesperson, let’s have a moment of honesty... No one likes to be sold to. 

Most people prefer shopping online, from the comfort of their own homes to having conversations with salespeople that leave them feeling like they were sold something they don’t need. 

Shopping on your terms gives you a greater sense of control. That’s why whenever we have to buy a big-ticket item like a new car or TV, we all like to research and buy at our own pace. 

But where does that leave outbound sales strategy? Are outbound sales obsolete? Should sales teams just focus on inbound sales methods or is there still hope for outbound? 

In case you need a refresher on the differences between inbound and outbound sales, and what each term means, then use these quick definitions as an overview.

What Is Inbound Sales?

Inbound sales is when a potential lead or customer calls your business inquiring about the solutions you sell. They’ve already heard about your product or service, seen your company somewhere, and they’re interested in learning more. This is often called a warm lead.

What Is Outbound Sales?

With outbound sales, salespeople reach out or call prospects who know nothing about your company or product and haven’t indicated any interest yet. This is typically called a cold lead.

These lead generation strategies have pros and cons, but which strategy is best when your B2B sales team is trying to drive more revenue? 

And what is the difference between inbound and outbound sales? 

We answer questions like this and learn more about inbound and outbound lead generation. 

The Lead Generation Process

A steady stream of high-quality leads is essential for any sales funnel. While there are many ways to generate leads, typically, the process  looks something like this:

  1. Research your ideal customer profile (ICP).
  2. Create content that speaks to the greatest pain points and goals of your ICP and will attract leads.
  3. Post your content across all channels.
  4. As soon as people start engaging with your content (i.e., signing up on lead capture forms and sharing their contact information, etc.), have your marketing team score leads and convert them into prospects.  
  5. Your sales team will then contact them, conduct lead nurturing, and not only close the deal but also turn them into lifelong customers.

Now that you know a little more about generating leads, let’s look at the difference between outbound leads and inbound leads. 

Outbound Sales: What You Need to Know

When I think of sales, what comes to mind is door-to-door salespeople (a la Death of a Salesman) or cold calls. This is precisely what outbound sales is.

Outbound is the challenging sales work where SDRs initiate contact and introduce people to their company’s brand. Outbound is obviously filled with rejection since you’re talking to strangers who know nothing about your company. However, outbound can help you build a strong pipeline to where the rejection is worth it.

For one, outbound sales is a great strategy for small businesses looking for leads because it allows for fast growth. Your sales team can build clientele and drive revenue right away. 

Generating predictable revenue from outbound just boils down to finding a good resource for leads. Once you find a steady stream of quality leads, it’s a matter of consistently reaching out to prospects. The more prospects you contact, the more successful you’ll be with outbound sales. 

Here are different ways you can reach out to prospects through an outbound strategy:

  • Cold Emails: Email marketing pairs wonderfully with cold calls because instead of randomly calling leads for the first time, you can first reach out with a cold email and include a lead magnet. This way, when you call, the lead will at least be aware of your brand and, therefore, more likely to convert. Good email outreach templates and scripts are crucial to converting leads through cold emails. And email automation tools are a must. 
  • Social Media Marketing: Social media platforms like LinkedIn aren’t just great resources for lead generation. You can also use these platforms to build authority, build relationships with prospects through community engagement, and familiarize your leads with your brand before you ever call them. 
  • Trade Show Marketing/Sales Conferences: Trade shows and conferences like these sales events happening in 2024 are great networking opportunities. They give you a chance to organically introduce your products to people without being sales-y. People attend these events because they’ve already identified a problem and they’re looking to buy solutions, so they’re already warm, and half the battle is won. The key to success with sales events is following up with prospects who don’t buy on the spot but show clear interest. 
The benefits of inbound and outbound are displayed.

What Are the Benefits of Choosing Outbound Over Inbound Sales?

One of the greatest benefits of outbound sales is the control it gives salespeople. Marketing tactics like building a social media presence or content marketing don’t give you control over who views your content. It also takes time to see any results. Often, SEO and content marketing can take months to start seeing traffic

But with outbound sales, you call the shots. You can reach out to the people who need your solutions the most. More importantly, you can go after larger accounts for a competitive edge.

Check out this case study on finding quality leads with Seamless.AI.  

What Is B2B Inbound Lead Generation?

While outbound sales give you greater control, they’re still more expensive. Inbound sales are typically 61% more cost-effective, and this is because outbound tactics like cold email require paid delivery systems. 

But first, what is inbound sales? What is the inbound lead generation process? 

And what makes it cheaper versus outbound?

Let’s say you’re looking for an influencer for your marketing campaign and have two options. They both have the same number of followers and social reach, so that’s not a determining factor. 

Influencer A is uptight and a little nerdy (they have an expansive knowledge about product features). While well-meaning, they can be pushy with some of their selling tactics.

Then you have Influencer B, who is much more chill. They take an “If you build it, they will come” mentality to sales. This means they aren’t pushing any products down your throat. Instead, they focus on educating rather than selling.

Influencer B is inbound sales in a nutshell. Instead of using traditional outbound tactics to go after prospects, inbound is a key part of any go-to-market (GTM) strategy. Prospects essentially discover your brand through different inbound marketing channels

Whatever the channel is, the focus is on value, entertainment, and education. This draws leads in. They engage with your content (i.e., fill out a Google form, etc.). Then, your inbound sales representatives will focus on qualifying them and providing content customized to their needs. 

Where the objective with Influencer A/Outbound is pitching and closing. Inbound marketing strategies (Influencer B) aim to educate first and pitch later. 

Read this case study on cutting out the middleman in real estate sales with Seamless.AI. 

Benefits of Inbound Lead Generation

One of the greatest strengths of inbound sales is that it actually reflects today’s organic buying process. 

Gone are the days of traditional door-to-door sales, when people waited for a salesperson to knock on their door, reveal a problem they didn’t realize they had, and demonstrate the solution to their problems.

Today, people are identifying their own problems and doing substantial research.  

For example, I remember when I was in the market for a new laptop, I was torn between jumping on the bandwagon and getting a Macbook or a Lenovo. Instead of going to the Apple store or MicroCenter and being sold on a specific laptop by a salesperson. I went on Reddit, YouTube, and TikTok and poured over tons of customer reviews. I wanted to hear about the typical customer pain points people were having with each and the capabilities (after all that, I bypassed the Apple bandwagon and went with the Lenovo, by the way 😉). 

Every day, your prospects are going through a similar process. Instead of going to a salesperson who has biases (and for rightful reason. They want to sell you their product. I can’t blame them), people are researching G2, TikTok, etc. And typically, by the time you ever speak to them, they’ve already looked at your product and competitors, and they’ve just about made their minds up. A whopping, 96% of prospects do their own research before they ever contact a rep. 

Thus, inbound sales reflect the buying patterns of today’s buyers. Instead of aggressively pitching, inbound marketing supplies educational content that prospects are looking for that guides them through their own unique buyer’s journey. 

With inbound sales, the upfront goal isn’t to sell but to play the long game. Your objective is to gain visibility and get your website in front of people– get in the prospect’s head while they shop around.

Related: What is Prospecting 

Inbound Lead Conversion Statistics

In addition to the above benefits, inbound strategies often lead to higher conversion rates. Check out some of these statistics: 

On top of this, sales outreach isn’t needed because the prospects come to you on their own terms. With inbound marketing, you can boost brand authority in your respective space and build trust with customers.

Tips for Lead Generation Campaigns

By now, you can see that inbound sales is an excellent strategy for smaller teams tight on cash and resources.  If you’re looking for ideas to get your inbound marketing rolling, check these out:

  • Webinars: Webinars allow your sales team to organically sell your product/service without being forceful and turn those casual website visitors into leads. You can showcase how your solution works and play the role of teacher and consultant to your audience.   
  • Social Media Engagement: Play the role of Product Advisor and drop social posts on LinkedIn, Twitter (X), and Facebook that focus on edutainment and building community engagement.  
  • Blogs: Making all your blogs about your product/service pitch is the kiss of death. Instead, help your target audience resolve their pain points (big and small). Connect readers with great resources (articles, statistics, etc.) and tools. And most importantly: Edutainment! Make your blogs fun to read. You want people to look to your blog as a place to pass the time before lunch or between meetings. 

Inbound Leads vs Outbound Leads: Similarities and Differences 

If you’re not sure what’s going to work for your sales team, here’s the main takeaway to remember.

A quote is displayed summarizing the core differences between inbound leads and outbound leads.

Inbound vs Outbound Demand Generation FAQs

Still torn between inbound and outbound? It all boils down to your budget and audience. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What’s your budget? This is a simple but necessary question. How much money do you have set aside for marketing and sales strategies? And what timeline have you put in place? By what date do you need to start seeing results for it to be a success? As we’ve discussed, outbound is more expensive than inbound because of the delivery platforms you need. But it takes less time to start seeing returns with outbound versus inbound. Inbound is very much a long-game sales strategy.
  • Who is your target audience? Who is your ideal customer profile? And realistically, how big is your audience? If you have a big target audience, go with inbound. If you have a smaller, more specific niche, you’re trying to tap into– stick with outbound sales. 
  • How long is your buyer’s journey? The longer your sales cycle, the more likely outbound is the right approach for you. If your average customers tend to buy your products quickly, inbound might be the best way to get your brand out there. 
  • How complicated is your product/service? In other words, is your solution easy enough for someone to get the gist of what it does and the problems it solves on their own? Or does your solution require a middleman (like an SDR) to walk the prospect through every feature?
  • How much does your product/service cost? Calculate your average revenue per unit sold. If your product/service is pricey, make outbound your top methodology. If you have a lower price point, prioritize inbound strategies. 

Which Lead Gen Method Is Right for Your Business?

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of inbound sales versus outbound sales, you’re probably thinking, “Don’t make me choose! Why can’t I just have the best of both worlds?!” 

And honestly, when it comes to sales, you can actually have the best of both. 

We’ve all seen some great rivalries in our lifetime…

Pepsi vs. Cola…

Prince vs. Michael Jackson…

The Ohio State vs. *ichigan…

Beta vs. VHS…

Blu Ray vs HD…

How Does Inbound Marketing Work With Outbound Sales?

The sales team drives outbound leads, and the marketing team creates content to familiarize prospects with the brand (driving inbound leads). When the leads are qualified, sales reps book appointments to move to the next stage of the buying process. 

While you may be partial to the iPhone over the Android or Coke over Pepsi, inbound and outbound strategies can co-exist in harmony and make your sales process unbeatable.

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