What are Inbound and Outbound Sales?

Differences between inbound and outbound sales and how to choose the best sales strategy for your business

Suyoung Lee
· 8 min read
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Sales leads, or potential customers, are generated through multiple channels and activities. You can find them through cold calling and emailing or attract them through content such as webinars, blog posts, etc.

Depending on who initiates the communication between the lead and the sales representative, these sales techniques generally fall into two categories: Inbound and Outbound Sales.

How you combine and optimize these sales techniques can significantly impact your business growth and revenue because, eventually, understanding where your leads come from would determine your sales strategy and forecasting.

Then how do you ensure which channels are most appropriate for your current business situation, so you can effectively plan your sales and marketing resources?

In this piece, we are going to look at the following:

  • What is Inbound Sales?
  • What is Outbound Sales?
  • Inbound vs. Outbound Sales: Differences and Benefits
  • Which one is the right choice for your business?
  • Tools that can help you manage each Inbound and Outbound Sales

What Is Inbound Sales?

Inbound sales is a sales process in which the sales relationship starts when the prospects initiate contact.

In Inbound Sales, prospects have actively read a company blog post, searched for a product, or scheduled a demo call. They then make contact requesting further information, additional content, or even self-purchasing the product or service.

Companies proactively attract customers by building various channels so their prospects can organically find their business, such as content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media.

Once a prospect is engaged, the prospect will reach out to the sales team asking for more information or a demo/presentation. Then the sales team will work to build a relationship and qualify the prospect as a potential customer. If a prospect is qualified, then the sales team will identify the prospect's specific pain points and offer them a solution.

Buyer's Journey in Inbound Sales

There are three stages of a buyer's journey on the inbound sales path, where leads move through several qualification stages before becoming customers.

1. Awareness: Potential buyer identifies a challenge, an opportunity, or a goal they need to achieve. They learn more about the problem and become aware of your product through channels like blogs, white papers, ebooks, and industry reports.

2. Consideration: The buyer is now aware of the problem and is committed to finding a solution. They will consider whether your product is right for them through content touch points like demo videos, documentation guides, or case studies.

3. Decision: After evaluation, the buyer is ready to make a purchase decision. But they are still deciding what specific product or service to use. They will consider whether your product is right for them before making a final purchase decision.

If you understand what the journey looks like for your buyers, you can develop a sales process that supports your customer through the journey precisely at the time they're most primed for.

Examples of Inbound Sales

The driving force behind inbound sales is creating and positioning relevant content to reach your target audience and offer value. By developing content that speaks to the interests of your ideal customers, you can organically attract a steady flow of quality leads and nurture them with the proper amount of engagement to convert them into delighted customers.

Inbound marketing involves several techniques for building compelling content, such as:

  • Blog posts: You can use them to address buyers' needs, helping them recognize they have a problem and consider potential solutions.
  • Webinar: By creating a webinar about a topic you know, you can prompt visitors to RSVP or sign up to gain access.
  • SEO: SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, is a process of improving your site to increase visibility when people search for products or services related to your business.
  • eBooks: You can have eBooks readily available on your website, as they are popular downloads from a visitor's perspective because they provide quality information.
  • Podcasts: Podcasts are an excellent way to make yourself an authority in your industry while giving your brand some personality.

Benefits of Inbound Sales

Inbound sales is a methodology that has already provided results to businesses for several years, allowing them to engage with their audience effectively. So why is inbound marketing such a powerful tool for accelerating the growth of your business? We have laid out some primary benefits of using inbound below.

Scalability: Educational content has the potential to reach a massive amount of people.

Personalization: There is much more information available about each contact, including their interests, needs, actions taken on the brand's channels, and more. This allows you to personalize the sales process, which leads to more conversions.

Brand awareness: As your inbound marketing priority is content, you must provide plenty of information about your tools and services via all possible channels. This way, you can position your organization as a thought leader in the industry, and your business will become more recognizable.

High conversions: If the content you create aligns with your buyers' journeys, they are more likely to engage with you. Customers will become more loyal by addressing specific problems and providing insights into the relevant questions. This will influence their decision, making you better positioned to turn those prospects into customers.

What Is Outbound Sales?

Outbound sales refers to the sales process through which a salesperson or company initiates engagement with a potential buyer. Unlike inbound sales, it's the salesperson cold calling or cold emailing the prospect to establish primary contact.

Once the first contact is made, the sales process moves the customer from unaware to buying in a few short steps.

Here's an overview of the typical flow for an outbound sales process:

1. Prospecting: Prospecting is a method of collecting contact information for potential new customers. You generate leads by coming up with a list of people you want to contact and find their contact information using tools like LinkedIn, websites, or outbound sales software.

2. Outreach: After you have a list of people you want to target, you can start contacting them with phone calls, emails, and social media. The main goal of outreach is to get prospects to respond to you with the right messages and the right offering.

3. Qualifying: In their first interactions with a lead, salespeople will determine whether a prospect is likely to be a customer for your business. You can move on when the lead isn't qualified and spend more time on the prospects who are more likely to buy.

Side note: Steps 2 and 3 – Outreach and Qualifying are also part of Prospecting.

4. Sales calls and demos: Once you have qualified prospects, it's time to make your pitch. This might involve a live demo of your software, a meeting with executives, or a call to discuss the features and benefits of your product. Depending on your target market, this process can take a while.

5. Closing the deal: If the sales calls and demos are successful, it’s time to sign the contract. Sales closing involves convincing the prospective customer to commit to your offerings, which can be related to selling, consulting, or any services.

Examples of Outbound Sales

Seen as the traditional sales strategy, common examples of outbound sales include:

  • Cold call/email: Cold calling/email is a sales technique to reach individuals who have not previously expressed interest in the offered products or services.
  • Social selling: Social selling is the process of outreaching prospects on various social networking websites (e.g., LinkedIn and Twitter).
  • Trade show/ industry event: A trade show/industry event is also an excellent way to engage with your potential customers and market their products.

Benefits of Outbound Sales

Outbound sales strategy could be very resource-heavy work, but it can also provide the following advantages:

Speed: Reaching out to a potential customer through cold calls, emails, or social media yields quick results. You can receive immediate buyers' feedback on your sales process and make adjustments. This is especially useful if you are in an early stage with your product and you need direct market feedback.

Precision: The outbound sales process is highly targeted, so your leads are likely going to be interested in learning more about your product or service. Plus, it allows reps to connect personally with consumers, build relationships, and tweak their strategy when necessary.

Control: With outbound sales, you're in control of the pace of marketing and selling. If you need more customers, you can simply ramp up your prospecting. Likewise, you can change any of your sales processes, such as cold email or social media approach, at any time.

Predictability: Documenting your sales process, so all team members follow the same process enables you to analyze reliable data and results. Also, your lead generation becomes predictable if you have found, through iterations, how to curate the right messages and quickly convert warm leads into meetings.

Inbound vs. Outbound: What's right for your business?

Inbound Outbound
Customers come to you You go to customers
More suitable with self-serviceable products/services More suitable with complex products
Provide helpful/relevant content first, then sell Directly approach with a clear value proposition and sell
Typically longer sales cycle Typically shorter sales cycle
Common channels: SEO, Content, Webinar, Social Media, Newsletter, etc. Common channels: Cold email/calling, automatic outbound email sequencing, lead information tools (e.g., ZoomInfo, Apollo)

As you can see, the two strategies differ in the direction and route taken toward the first contact between the salesperson and prospect. Inbound sales is all about connecting with potential buyers when they're actively looking for a solution, whether that's on the phone, by email, on social media, or in person. Outbound sales involves actively pursuing prospects who may not realize they have a problem.

Deciding which sales strategy is best depends on several variables, including the type of business you run, your average deal size, and how you want to build relationships with customers. Let's look at the following B2B sales situations to learn how both activities can work together to create an optimal sales funnel and inbound/outbound ratio.

1. B2B with Very High ACV

If you sell a solution with a very high Annual Contract Value (ACV) of over $50k per year, you can consider doubling down on outbound sales first and then gain more leads through inbound.

The higher the ACV, the larger the deal size, and the better outbound works. That's because more important deals are more challenging to happen, so it could be better to focus on finding a few happy customers with high personalization. Spend some time researching them and sending personalized emails to several stakeholders and C-level executives.

2. B2B with Low ACV

If your ACV is below $10K per year or your products with monthly subscription models, inbound could be a powerful channel to start with. In this scenario, users can make purchasing decisions independently without a complicated approval process, and they are more willing to invest in a low-cost solution if they have all the information needed. If you're selling a SaaS product with a $10 monthly subscription fee, inbound will generate better ROI.

3. B2B with Medium-High ACV

You would want both if your ACV is medium to high ($10K - $50K per year). Even if you already have a few leads gained from outbound, it won't be enough to rely on them to meet the entire sales quota or plan. Likewise, even if you have built an inbound machine, you would want to add outbound later to grow 10% or 20% faster.

Best CRM Solution For Both Outbound And Inbound Sales

You're ready to set up your inbound and outbound sales teams. A powerful, easy-to-use CRM is a crucial tool for setting up any sales team.

Relate is a solution for simplified sales collaboration and CRM for B2B sales. It makes it easy for sales teams to track and manage outbound and inbound sales motions.

Relate enables sales teams to run a simple yet effective inbound and outbound sales process with integrated tools like Google Spreadsheets, Apollo, and Typeform to capture inbound leads and outreach prospects.


Inbound sales and outbound sales are essential parts of sales motions that are initialized by potential customers or sales development representatives.

Considering each unique business situation, the right mix of both inbound and outbound sales tactics is critical for the future business growth of any sales organization. With the right CRM tool and guidance, sales organizations can effectively manage sales leads and build an optimized sales funnel.